The Latest Margaret Atwood: In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, the Ellmann Lectures


The first three chapters of In Other Worlds are the lectures given by Margaret Atwood at Emory University, on the occasion of the Ellmann Lectures ( They do not constitute an exhaustive review of the development of science-fiction as a genre but are a series of personal remarks on science-fiction and speculative fiction she has read as a child and as an adult. She also relates this to debates about what works can really be considered literature and while science-fiction may long have been considered low-brow rather than high-brow, it is not without literary interest.

But surely all draw from the same deep well:  those imagined other worlds located somewhere apart from our everyday one: in another time, in another dimension, through a doorway into the spirit worlds, or on the other side of the threshold that divides the known from the unknown. Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Sword and Sorcery Fantasy, and Slipstream Fiction: all of them might be placed under the same large “wonder tale” umbrella. (page 8)

The lectures have three parts: Flying Rabbits (about superheroes), Burning Bushes (about the influence of ancient mythologies), and finally, Dire Cartographies (about utopias and dystopias) where she makes explicit links with her own three dystopian novels.

It is interesting that Atwood’s references in science-fiction/speculative fiction differ from mine quite a lot. I would not necessarily admit to her being better than me, but certainly “differently” read… which may be a product of my teenage-years reading having been done mostly in French with the stock of French-language sci-fi available in the municipal library. What I find particularly illuminating in her book are the references to mythology.


Atwood, Margaret. In Other Worlds : SF and the Human Imagination. McClelland & Stewart: Toronto, 2011.

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  1. Pingback: William Gibson, The Peripheral | Sylvie's World is a Library

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