Margaret Atwood, Speculative Fiction’s Apocalyptic Optimist

You come at science convincingly from the direction of fiction, and you’re pretty precise about your work, which you maintain is speculative fiction rather than sci-fi.

I like exact labeling. Speculative fiction encompasses that which we could actually do. Sci-fi is that which we’re probably not going to see. We can do the lineage: Sci-fi descends from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds; speculative fiction descends from Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Out of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea came Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, out of which came We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, then George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Ray Bradbury‘s Fahreneheit 451 was speculative fiction, while The Martian Chronicles was not.

But merges exist, aside from the historical designations.

Well, there’s a crossover park where sci-fi and fantasy play together. But it’s really just a question of who is related to whom. If you could do a DNA of books, you could trace the classifications of these kinds of writing.

It seems that much of the blurring comes more from a lack of experience with these works, rather than some kind of postmodern sampling that erases points of reference.

Right. People haven’t really read these books. They want to know where to put it on the bookstore shelf. When people first started writing this stuff, they didn’t call it science fiction. The first were called scientific romances. Before that, there were utopias and dystopias…