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Clute on Atwood

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Last night I followed a link from a Boingboing message board (link provided by Alan Bostick) to John Clute's harsh review of Atwood's Oryx and Crake from Science Fiction Weekly. I would expect reviewers from the sf world not to be kind to this book, given how much Atwood's been trashing science fiction in her publicity statements about the book, but I trust Clute more than I might trust a lot of other reviewers looking at an sf book that was written by a literary fiction author and published as literary fiction. (Even so, there are a couple of points on which I suspect, on no evidence and without having read the book myself, that Clute may've missed something; for example, I'm guessing that the presence of the name "Oryx" in the title suggests that the character may be intended to be a bit more important than Clute suggests that she is.)

But the main reason I mention this review is that Clute's the only reviewer I can think of who'd use a phrase like "the sclerotic exiguity of its backstory." It's a rare review that sends me to the dictionary.

(Hey, Jay, consider "exiguity"—or even "sclerotic exiguity"—a Story Words suggestion.)

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I dunno... 'Sclerotic exiguity' just seems like remplissage to me.


I've got some fumbling attempts to dissect why I thought Handmaid's Tale worked and Oryx & Crake didn't back in my blog from late May, after I read the latter. Push to shove, I think it was mostly that Oryx fell into all the traps that litarachur fanatics like to accuse genre work of. The writing was pretty and some of the world-building was neat, but the story isn't personal -- it's a tour of the world with nothing more to offer but, "This is bad!" whereas what I loved about Handmaid's was how the "This is bad!" elements meant something to the people involved, threatened their lives, but other, more important, things, too.

It's a great example of "an idea is not a story," really. Feh.

I'd love to pin Atwood down and ask her what she really means when she says "sf" and "speculative fiction" and such, how she's drawing lines between them.


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