15 November 2013

For Greg's Pop: An Atwood Kind of Life

A friend emailed me inquiring on what to buy his Dad for the holidays. His goal, to introduce and successfully hook his Pop into the wonderful world of SF. Quite a mission and one that I soon jumped on but quickly found myself overwhelmed. After all, this is quite a heady decision; the book I recommend could either successfully draw someone to SF or disastrously push them away. Who am I to hold so much power in my little geek hands? I soon got over myself, realizing who better than a  hard-core self-proclaimed SF nerdlington to decide someone's future reading fate.

Being a proud maple-leaf wearing, 'sorry' expounding, 'eh' dropping Canadian there may be a few facts that might surprise you about my country. While winter does reign over most of this expansive land for a remarkable amount of time, a thawing does occur (sometimes, almost always) resulting in rather pleasant, even scorching summers. 

98% of Canadian fathers are 100% convinced that their child will be the next big hockey star and have either registered that little newborn into skating lessons their second day on Earth or have attempted to contact an NHL recruiter to come look at their child's massive newborn thighs (for those tight corners).  I may (or not) be referencing a husband (maybe mine) who purchased gloves, helmet and stick for a certain 2 year old last year.

You may be familiar with the French/English divide that sometimes exists (on slow news day), even aware of the frequent Quebec threat of divorcing itself from Canada. However what truly separates one Canadian from another is not Tim Horton doughnuts, or who wins the nice award (Nova Scotians, obviously), or whose mayor is more cracked out (really not a contest) but our stance on Atwood, Margaret Atwood. Yes, indeed it comes down to Atwood. She is either loved or despised and since I am one of the former my recommendations will be Atwoodian inspired.

Many a word has been written with regards to Atwood's reluctance to placing her books under the SF genre and while I may have sounded off on this very topic one too many times, I am
laying the debate to rest. Do you hear me world? Whether you wish to call The Handmaid's Tale, SF, speculative fiction, a horse's behind, is of no concern to me.  It is science fiction and it is good. And with this I say, read it for what it is, a truly harrowing tale of a future that may just come to pass, with all the horrors that are contained in a dystopian novel.  It is a classic and with all classics a must read whatever genre you choose to align with. In my opinion, The Handmaid's Tale is the perfect litmus test for Margaret Atwood, not for dipping ones toes into the big sea of science fiction.

If The Handmaid's Tale is more about Atwood's very "Atwoodian" style then what would be the best SF book for a non-SF reader? Why not a diaspora-laced tale of destruction and redemption: Oryx and Crake, book one of the MaddAddam trilogy? After all, if you are going to push someone's reading boundaries, you should at least recommend a writer who is able to weave together a world-developed story-line. I really like Atwood. I should buy some type of shirt or coffee-mug or something. 

It may seem a tad presumptuous to recommend a trilogy. What if the intended reader (Greg's Pop) doesn't like it? The great thing about this book is it can stand alone. If you love it, great, lucky you, there is The Year of the Flood an all-encompassing intense little nightmare that won't ever leave your thoughts (holy crap people it is INTENSE) and from there you can move onto MaddAddam (which I cannot comment on but am hoping I unwrap it under a tree this year). By recommending a trilogy you have a better outcome. If he loves it, then he reads more SF, resulting him wanting to read even MORE SF and then he is hooked, and you have a Dad who reads SF and that really is all you have, isn't it?  

Then again, if he doesn't like it, you have a Dad who didn't like it and well, he most likely will still be your Dad, just a Dad who thinks your choice in books are off the rocker. I realize I am of no help and most definitely not the best person for this insurmountable task. Have him read Dune.


  1. The question of how to introduce a non-scifi lover into SF is the eternal question. My feeling has always been to get some soft SF. Handmaid's Tale is an excellent choice. Dune, I think, even scifi lovers have a problem with. Just too dense for someone who's never cracked a book with a rocket on the cover before.

    These were my humble recommendations

    1. Agree Nigel, Dune while I find it hard to believe, is not THE book for most people. And thanks for the recommendations, will give a heads up to my friend.


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