A is for Atwood

In an effort to make sense of my bookcase, which if I was feeling generous I’d call eclectic and if I was being more honest I’d just call random and disorganised, I’m going to flag up some of the great writers buried there and howl in anguish over the gems I’ve missed.

They’re all filed alphabetically, which is helpful (though some authors seem determined to mess things up. Do I File Marion Zimmer Bradley under Zimmer or Bradley? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle under Conan or Doyle?)

So I’m going to start with the favourite author on my shelf whose surname begins with A and work up to Z, assuming my stamina holds out. Since there isn’t an even spread of surnames through the alphabet (how inconvenient), there are going to be richer pickings for some letters than others and, just to be clear from the start, we’re skipping Q and X, because no matter how good Roberto Quaglio (or any of the other handful of authors beginning with Q) is, he ain’t on my shelves. And I might have been able to stretch a point and include Qui Xiaolong in both absent letter categories if only I had one of his books. Sigh.

This series of posts is going to inevitably skew towards speculative fiction because that’s how my bookshelf skews, but there are plenty of more mainstream possibilities, and I have no idea what I’ll go for with my selections. I’m just going to take it one letter at a time.

Anyhow, enough waffle, on to A. Quite a few to choose from here. The classicist in me thinks I should go for Jane Austen (though Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would undeniably split the voters, if there were any – and before I get comments, I know she didn’t write the zombie bit, not really, unless she secretly hid an alternative manuscript…).

The sci-fi geek hard wired in me is telling me to go for Isaac Asimov, one of the big three back in the day (along with Clarke and Heinlein), but, y’know, there are better choices. Yes he invented robots (I know, not really) and I used to think Foundation was a work of visionary genius, but then I recently reread it and, given the sharper perspective of many years and many books, the ideas don’t seen as sharp and the writing feels less tight.

So who? Monica Ali? Douglas Adams? Martin Amis? Kate Atkinson? Joe Abercrombie? They’re all on my shelves and I like them all (well, maybe not Martin Amis. He might write well but he’s too insufferable for my tastes). But Margaret Atwood is in my collection, too, and she definitely gets my vote.

Margaret Atwood, then, is the first of my author picks. Most famous for the Handmaid’s Tale she’s been writing thought provoking fiction that straddles the boundary between literary and speculative for many years. A Canadian, now in her 80s, she’s won multiple awards, most recently jointly winning the Booker Prize (2019) for the Testaments, her follow-up to the Handmaid’s Tale.  Handmaid is better, because it’s more original, more thought-provoking and more ambivalent. It’s also more prescient, as real-life America lurches more towards the (religious) right where truths become denounced as falsehoods and the authorities commit violent atrocities in the name of ’law and order’.  The Republic of Gilead may be chilling to most of us, but, I suspect, not everyone, and Atwood succeeds in unsettling her readers with the prospect of what we might be capable of, given the wrong circumstances, even though when she wrote it that the prospect seemed more distant and far removed than it does now (as I write legendary Democrat and champion of civil rights Ruth Ginsberg has just died, leaving open the prospect of the Supreme Court being further skewed towards the right. Roe vs Wade is already being talked about as a possible early casualty of this shifting landscape, though I’d like to think that’s scaremongering. More, inevitably, to follow). Encouragingly, though, The Testaments is more optimistic in tone than The Handmaid’s Tale. Let’s hope.

But if we ever get to the end of the alphabet and start on AA, don’t bet against Ben Aaronovitch (and not only because he doesn’t have any competition).

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