A Brave New Genre by Bryan Appleyard

Bryan Appleyard

A Brave New Genre

 

MARGARET ATWOOD DID not like her new novel, Oryx and Crake, being described as 'science fiction'. It is, she said, 'speculative fiction'. Ever on the qui vive for this sort of 'issue' to fill the gaps between Alastair Campbell and, well, Alastair Campbell, Radio 4's Today programme called me in to debate this hot topic with DJ Taylor.

The School of Athens it wasn't. I said Atwood was displaying the worst kind of petty literary snobbery. Taylor said she was quite right: science fiction was badly written and he didn't like it, the implication being that anythmg that was well written and that he liked couldn't possibly be science fiction. Wells's War of the Worlds, Huxley's Brave New World, Orwell's 1984 and anything by Atwood were, ipso facto, 'speculative' not 'science' fiction. I'm not sure Taylor had quite thought this one through.

Don't turn the page just yet. I am not going to embark on a paralysingly boring discussion of what is or is not SF It is true that a large proportion of SF is badly written - about the same proportion, in fact, as of every other type of fiction. But there is great SF writing - notably in Wells -

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