The Challenge of Speculative Fiction

Question: Why write speculative fiction?

Margaret Atwood: I grew up with it, so I’ve read "1984" probably three years after it was first published.  I read "Brave New World" around that time in my life.  I read a book called "Darkness and Noon," which is actually not speculative fiction or science fiction, it’s life in the purges of the Soviet Union, but it read to me very much like that kind of book.  And I just... growing up in the '40s, I was still in the golden age of sci-fi, and I just knew it.  So I also did some work on it earlier in my life and I guess I always wanted to write a book like that.  And the first one that I wrote was called "The Handmaid’s Tale."  And I wanted, among other things, to try to solve the problem that those kinds of book have, which I call the tour of the garbage disposal plant, in which the person says to the visiting character, “Well in your day, you did this terribly inefficient thing, but now we have this wonderful garbage disposal plant.”  And there’s a lot of exposition like that and I want to be able to tell the story like that without those big chunks of exposition.  

So partly it was a challenge, but partly it was also a number of burning issues that have now become even more burning.  And it was the same with "Mad Adam Trilogy," which begins with Oryx and Crake and we save the world of the future from within a privileged environment.  Our narrator, Jimmy, is of that environment, though not good at it.  And in "Year of the Flood," we move outside the privileged part of that society into a pretty criminal level of it which, nonetheless, contains the very high-minded cult of the God’s Gardeners.  

And in this future genetic modification is not only the only problem, we are also in an age of advanced climate change, for instance, which will bring with it a whole bunch of other problems that people are just beginning to think about that figure out.

Question:
I understand you brought along an artifact inspired by "The Year of the Flood." What is it?


Margaret Atwood:
Yes, my artifact is in fact this wonderful hat, which was made last year for a performance of :The Year of the Flood" when we were launching the book.  We did performances and had music and dramatic elements and narration.  

The God’s Gardeners recycle everything, so we have the hat that is twisted newspaper, it’s cardboard, this is plastic bags and we have the little plastic bag bow at the back.  And the Kingston, Ontario, production of this thing, they made all the costumes.  And they’ve all got hats like this.  Since we’re traveling in Japan and recreating it all there, I’ve got the hat with me.
 
Question: Why do the God’s Gardeners shun technology?

Margaret Atwood: Well, in "The Year of the Flood," the Gardeners, a green recycling group, don’t use any technology.  That’s their story.  And the reason they don’t use it is that if you can see it, it can see you.  It’s very leaky in that way.  And one thing that people are using this kind of technology for is spying on other people.  So security is a big issue.  If you don’t want other people to read your emails, don’t send them.  Number one.

Recorded 10/21/2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

The author grew up reading books like "1984" and "Brave New World" and wanted to solve the problem to which these types of books so often fall prey—too much exposition.

Why Lil Dicky made this star-studded Earth Day music video

"Earth" features about 30 of the biggest names in entertainment.

Culture & Religion
  • Lil Dicky is a rapper and comedian who released his debut album in 2015.
  • His new music video, "Earth," features artists such as Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheehan, Kevin Hart, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • All proceeds of the music video will go to environmental causes, Dicky said.
Keep reading Show less

After death, you’re aware that you’ve died, say scientists

Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.

Credit: Petr Kratochvil. PublicDomainPictures.net.
Surprising Science

Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?

Keep reading Show less
Big Think
Sponsored by Lumina Foundation

Upvote/downvote each of the videos below!

As you vote, keep in mind that we are looking for a winner with the most engaging social venture pitch - an idea you would want to invest in.

Keep reading Show less