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March 30, 2009 4:05 PM   Subscribe

The art of Jason Courtney takes a personal tour on some of the moments of Margaret Atwood's dystopia Oryx & Crake - a visit to the pigoons or Snowman's morning view, pausing to reflect on the enigmatic beauty of Oryx.

As well as his work on Oryx & Crake, Courtney visits ancient cities, futuristic buildings and windy landscapes, taking in an assortment of characters with guns (and making sure your team is ready).
posted by panboi (42 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
It's almost like some kind of Science Fiction!
posted by Artw at 4:13 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's almost like some kind of Science Fiction!

Almost. Except, as a Certified Literary Author(TM), Atwood's works are unburdened by the tawdry tropes of genre fiction, and by the legacy of that restricted community.

Or, from the other side of the fence: Atwood is a decent writer, but she's a lousy science fiction writer and she should really stop. The Handmaid's Tale was apparently some kind of wonderful fluke.
posted by gurple at 4:28 PM on March 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


Does he use a long pen?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:28 PM on March 30, 2009


I <3 PIGOONS
posted by grobstein at 4:37 PM on March 30, 2009


Great link, thank you! Oryx is probably my favorite of Atwood's books and the Children of Man film got me hankering for a big or little screen adaptation of Oryx. Hopefully someone out Hollywood way will see these and get the ball rolling.
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:57 PM on March 30, 2009


Dystopian != sci fi, tho. So Handmaid's Tale isn't really relevant to whether or not Atwood can pull off science fiction.

I have to say, some of these paintings make me like the book more.
posted by annathea at 4:58 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Margaret Atwood is a phenomenal writer, no matter how you slice it or which side of the genre/literary debate you squat on.

Oryx and Crake and Handmaid's are fantastic books. If you guys liked Oryx you should definitely check out a book called The Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:03 PM on March 30, 2009


Dystopian != sci fi, tho. So Handmaid's Tale isn't really relevant to whether or not Atwood can pull off science fiction.

Dystopias may not have to be SciFi, but Handmaids Tale sure as hell is.
posted by Artw at 5:06 PM on March 30, 2009


(Despite the lack of "monsters and spaceships", "rockets and chemicals", "talking squids in outer space" and other things Atwood beleives are the markers of the genre)
posted by Artw at 5:10 PM on March 30, 2009


I liked Oryx and Crake, but I didn't love it, and I think many of its failures stem from Atwood's failure to learn from that genre she insists she's not a part of. The wanna-be Orwellian language of her consumerist dystopia was occasionally charming, but usually just annoying. She should have acknowledged that her essential plot had been done many times already and read more to figure out what worked.
posted by grobstein at 5:13 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


At my house, we call those Morningstar McNuggets "Chickinobs"
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 5:14 PM on March 30, 2009


Oh, and I suppose you expect to have your Crake and Oryx it too.
posted by ...possums at 5:27 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The wanna-be Orwellian language of her consumerist dystopia was occasionally charming, but usually just annoying. She should have acknowledged that her essential plot had been done many times already and read more to figure out what worked.

i thought she managed to attack rather effectively college 'nerd' culture. for me that's the best part of the book.

the dystopia is a bit skeletal, but that's not really the point of the book.

atwood has never been much of a prose writer...
posted by geos at 5:30 PM on March 30, 2009


Atwood is a decent writer, but she's a lousy science fiction writer and she should really stop

I think Atwood is one of the best writers of our time. I would have to agree that Oryx and Crake is not her best work, but I did enjoy it greatly, and thought it was terrific. I think you're crazy if you tries (or tries not) to work in science fiction. Her best work drifts in and out of "science fiction" of "fantasy", and is too good to give a fuck what silly label you want to put on her.

The great science fiction writers (as opposed to authors) like Delaney and Gene Wolfe and Bradbury - do people shit themselves about imagined boundaries when they stray out of genre? Sure, some people do, but no-one with much to say. Was "The Blind Assassin" science fiction or fantasy or what? I don't even remember. But I'm pretty sure it was firmly in my favorite genre - "awesome".
posted by freebird at 5:31 PM on March 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


(cont)

but attacking the culture of technology in a sci-fi novel is a nice thing/ i had high hopes for the 'Culture' novels of banks but he loses the scent...
posted by geos at 5:32 PM on March 30, 2009


got a little carried away there: "if you think she tries"
posted by freebird at 5:33 PM on March 30, 2009


I'd rather have a bucket o' nubbins.
posted by furtive at 6:04 PM on March 30, 2009


Hell, I like Atwood, but "one of the best writers of our time"?
posted by JaredSeth at 6:15 PM on March 30, 2009


Hell, I like Atwood, but "one of the best writers of our time"?

I feel the same way. One of the best.
posted by Bonzai at 6:54 PM on March 30, 2009


The mistake Atwood has made (at lease as far as I can tell) is that she's put off a lot of her would be readers with her steadfast insistence that what she's writing is not science fiction. It's like, well, it's like this. After you insist on "light red", or whatever you want to call it, my interest in anything else you have to say is pretty much depleted.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:08 PM on March 30, 2009


One of my favorite books. thanks!
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:11 PM on March 30, 2009


but "one of the best writers of our time"?

I actually think so, but it's a red herring. It's a waste of time to argue about "who's favorite author sucks" - there's no accounting for taste, nor should there be.

What I *will* argue about is stupid critique.

It's stupid to critique a writer for how closely (or not) they stay within the miasmatic bounds of genre, and that's not just a matter of taste. It's a shoddy appeal to authority and/or tradition; it's a conflation of confirmation bias and rote formula with good writing; and it's a cheap framework to make judgments guaranteed to win the approval of fellow-travelers and fan-folk. It's simply got nothing to do with anything.

Are there truly great writers who work entirely in deep genre? Patrick O'Brien - settled.

Are there great writers who cross in and out? I'd put Atwood in there, but if you like: Lethem, Calvino, McCarthy, Peake, Rushdie. All sometimes dip into what you'd have to call "fantasy" or "science fiction", but are clearly not genre writers.

So - say what you do or don't like about Atwood: that's interesting. Complaining about whether she's supposed to do science fiction or not - that isn't. That's a sign of flaccid, weak reading and poor critical analysis.

Rar!
posted by freebird at 7:18 PM on March 30, 2009


>"check out a book called The Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell."

Seconded.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:19 PM on March 30, 2009


she's put off a lot of her would be readers with her steadfast insistence that what she's writing is not science fiction

That is annoying. I hate it when authors play that shit just as much as readers. It doesn't surprise me too much with her, but it drives me batshit when writers try to "graduate" away from the genre work they started and were successful with, and denigrate their own early "genre" work. Honestly - give me Witch World over Mists of Avalon! Sorry to say it, bring on the hate, but it's true. And William Gibson, with your "oooh, I don't actually think about computers or science fiction, all that Necromancer stuff was really about James Joyce" - I've read James Joyce, and you're no Joyce. Be true to what you did, it was rad.
posted by freebird at 7:23 PM on March 30, 2009


Oryx and Crake is one of my favorite dystopian novels. I first read it as a therapeutic mind-cleanse after finishing the pedantic and tedious Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom.
posted by Ratio at 7:55 PM on March 30, 2009


I agree that Atwood is an amazing writer and that her work transcends genre.

But I don't see how A Handmaid's Tale is sci-fi. At all. Oryx and Crake has elements of it - mostly the, um, science parts, so I can see how some may hold it up as an example of Atwood writing for the genre.

So clue me in - are there early works of hers that are in the genre that I've missed? Are there elements of A Handmaid's tale that take on putative science or worldbuilding other than setting it in the "future"?

to take up freebird's challenge, I like Atwood because there are so many books of hers that I didn't like, in the end (like Oryx and Crake) but have never forgotten, that have kept me thinking about them for years. I usually find her main characters rather stunningly drawn, and thought O&C was notable because I didn't readily identify with any of the main characters. I thought it was a slippery read - I kept expecting certain things from it and getting entirely something else. I liked that about it.
posted by annathea at 8:16 PM on March 30, 2009


also, panboi, thank you for the introduction to Jason Courtney's work. I love it.
posted by annathea at 8:29 PM on March 30, 2009


I thought it was a slippery read - I kept expecting certain things from it and getting entirely something else. I liked that about it.

Agreed. The personal stories in Cat's Eye and even Blind Assassin were (I think) much richer and more engrossing. Like McCarthy with the The Road, I think she got a little carried away with her experiment and a little far from what she does best. Frankly, the silly tech brandnames in O&C really seemed paltry and "precious". And while I liked the frailty and lameness of Jimmy, I felt she never really pulled me into caring much for/against him, nor achieved a catharsis that made me feel something had happened I cared *about*. But the ambiguity of the whole thing; its view of history and humanity; and especially the end; really made it work for me. Also, I'm about to have a first kid (like any minute), and it really scared the shit out of me by reminding me of things I already know about biotech.

So (to take up *your* challenge), why are it and/or Handmaiden's Tale Science-Fiction? First of all, as may be clear, I don't much care. But beyond that - this was certainly set in the near future; based on the possible effects of technology; and somewhat "operatic" in scope and lyrical drive; so it meets all the stereotypes, yah? Handmaiden's Tale: alternate history usually gets classified as Sci-Fi, because it's "not real" but "smarter and more focused on real-world or literary themes" than fantasy right? Like it or not.
posted by freebird at 9:05 PM on March 30, 2009


SPOILER:



I'm curious to know if Atwood always intended Oryx to be an object her whole life....if she hadn't died would Jimmy (Snowman) still care about her once the lust had worn off?
posted by brujita at 10:41 PM on March 30, 2009


Surely she did? That's why the details of her identity don't matter. But I don't quite see the link between that and whether Jimmy would still care in that particular alternate ending.
posted by grobstein at 10:45 PM on March 30, 2009


also, panboi, thank you for the introduction to Jason Courtney's work. I love it.

I'd just recently finished re-reading Oryx & Crake and enjoyed it even more second time around. I stumbled on Courtney's art while doing a search for features on the novel.

Atwood remains one of my favourite writers and she rarely disappoints. Cat's Eye remains my favourite Atwood novel though, simply for the masterful way she plays with time and generates an incredible sense of atmosphere for lost things.

To echo a comment up-thread, I'm quite surprised that Oryx & Crake hasn't been suggested for a film adaptation. In the right hands it could work very well.
posted by panboi at 2:18 AM on March 31, 2009


I'm curious to know if Atwood always intended Oryx to be an object her whole life....

...yes? I always thought that was kind of the point of the character.


Anyway, pigoons are scary fuckers.
posted by voltairemodern at 6:54 AM on March 31, 2009


But I don't see how A Handmaid's Tale is sci-fi. At all. Oryx and Crake has elements of it - mostly the, um, science parts, so I can see how some may hold it up as an example of Atwood writing for the genre.

Because science fiction, sci-fi, speculative fiction, sf, what ever you want to call it, isn't about shibboleths like rocket ships, ray guns and talking space-squid. Sure, some, perhaps even most of the field has it, but really, that's just stage dressing. It's not a particularly interesting of useful metric for what is or isn't sf, though.

SF is about asking "what if". Take an environment different from our own and ask: what would humans do, how would they live, what choices would they make? "Science fiction" does this by presupposing some level of technology that we don't have today. Narratives that do this with the "supernatural" or magic are often considered "fantasy", but I'm not certain that the distinction is all that useful. Not all on the fantasy shelves is sf, for example. Call it speculative fiction and be done, in my opinion.
posted by bonehead at 7:28 AM on March 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Since this thread seems to cry out for it, here is a collection quotes of Margaret Atwood's views on science fiction, speculative fiction and sci-fi (self-link).

And to clear up the confusion about whether The Handmaid's Tale and dystopias in general are science fiction, here is a hint: if it is set in the future, it is science fiction.
posted by ninebelow at 8:02 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have no opinion on the whole What Is Or Is Not Science And Or Speculative Fiction And Is Margaret Atwood Being Disingenuous Or Just Market Savvy In Disavowing The Genre Label debate.

I like the paintings, though.
posted by ook at 8:23 AM on March 31, 2009


"Nineteen Eighty-Four was written not as science fiction but as an extrapolation of life in 1948. So, too, The Handmaid's Tale is a slight twist on the society we have now."

There is no hard line between sci-fi and spec-fi. It sounds like Atwood is working in line with Historical Fiction, or deviations from the path that lead us here. What if Big Pharma makes pills to make us better, at the same time giving us a new sickness? What if chickens were created not only without beaks and feet, but with more legs, wings and breasts?

Maybe you could call it near-future sci-fi. Creating people who can purr wounds to heal sounds like sci-fi to me, but Oryx and Crake started in a present-day setting. Regardless of all that, thanks panboi for the keen artwork. I wish Jason would do more pictures of the book - those images are great refreshers for me.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:05 AM on March 31, 2009


I thought, "Oh, goody, dystopian fiction! Sci-fi or not, I loves me some dystopias." So I go to Wikipedia to read what it's all about, and this jumps out at me: "creation of transgenic animals such as 'wolvogs' (hybrids between wolves and dogs)." And by "jumps out at me," I mean from a dark alley, waving a flensing knife, and then taking away all of my hope.

Even if biologists haven't mostly gone ahead and decided that dogs and certain wolves are the same species (just with massively changed proportions of certain alleles), dogs and wolves can interbreed without any genetic foolishness going on.

Everyone needs an editor. And I think anyone who wants to even consider writing something vaguely sci-fi, or even high tech, needs a geek editor. Or just an inclination to look at Wikipedia occasionally.
posted by adipocere at 10:22 AM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's also exactly the kind of dumb implausible neologism you find in really bad, cheesy sci-fi.
posted by Artw at 10:40 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Atwood does seem hung-up on narrow categories (thanks ninebelow!). If for her sci-fi is just a bunch of bad, cheesy movies (thanks ninebelow!), it's not surprising she doesn't think she writes "science fiction".

It's too bad that she hasn't read more widely though; Oryx and Crake for all its literary merit, didn't stake out much new intellectual territory, I thought. It was much less radical than she makes it out to be.
posted by bonehead at 10:54 AM on March 31, 2009


I meant to say, I think Atwood is one of the best writers of our time as well, I think Oryx & Crake is an excellent work (dodgy neologisms ntowithstanding) and I'm looking forward to The Year Of the Flood, her next science fiction novel.
posted by ninebelow at 3:41 AM on April 1, 2009


Scary, 1-paragraph Amazon blurb strongly suggests it is a direct sequel to Oryx and Crake. I find myself surprised and bewildered.
Adam One, the kindly leader of the God's Gardeners - a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, the preservation of all species, the tending of the Earth, and the cultivation of bees and organic crops on flat rooftops - has long predicted the Waterless Flood. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have avoided it: the young trapeze-dancer, Ren, locked into the high-end sex club, Scales and Tails; and former SecretBurgers meat-slinger turned Gardener, Toby, barricaded into the luxurious AnooYoo Spa, where many of the treatments are edible. Have others survived? Ren's bioartist friend Amanda, or the MaddAddam eco-fighters? Ren's one-time teenage lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the CorpSeCorps, the shadowy and corrupt policing force of the ruling powers Meanwhile, in the natural world, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo'hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through a ruined world, singing their devotional hymns and faithful to their creed and to their Saints - Saint Francis Assisi, Saint Rachel Carson, and Saint Al Gore among them - what odds for Ren and Toby, and for the human race? By turns dark, tender, violent, thoughtful and uneasily hilarious, The Year of the Flood is Atwood at her most effective.
posted by grobstein at 2:43 PM on April 1, 2009


Now, if it were Sci-Fi that would sound bad. But since it isn't...
posted by Artw at 2:48 PM on April 1, 2009


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