Next Author: Frank Aubrey
Previous Author: Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

Margaret Atwood

(1939- )
Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in over thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; and her most recent, Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize. She lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson. Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College. Learn more at Margaret Atwood’s website.


The Handmaid’s Tale: Chilling and tense

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood was once, via a review of her work, once taken a bit publicly to task by Ursula K. LeGuin for not wanting her books (specifically The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, and The Year of the Flood) to be labeled “science fiction,” because, LeGuin speculated, Atwood did not want to be relegated to the genre ghetto. Atwood, however, responded that it was merely a definitional issue. She preferred “speculative fiction”— which she read as fiction that really could happen but hadn’t — rather than “science fiction” — which she read as ... Read More

The Testaments: A worthy return to Gilead

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a great book, deservedly earning its accolades as a masterpiece and a contemporary classic as it brilliantly weds her substantial gifts as both a poet and a prose writer in the service of one of the most potentially powerful genres, dystopian literature. Her sequel, The Testaments (2019), is not a great book. But it is a good one (and really, Atwood has more than one great book to her credit, let’s not get greedy). Fair warning, spoilers ahead for those who have not yet read The Handmaid’s Tale and one kinda-sorta spoiler (explained below) for The Testaments.

The Testaments Read More

The Blind Assassin: Stories within stories within stories

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

A provincial Canadian town in the 1920s doesn’t automatically scream sci-fi to most readers. But that is the beauty of Margaret Atwood’s tenth novel, The Blind Assassin (2000). She weaves a sprawling, post-war tale with pulp science-fiction stories that have readers leaping between Port Ticonderoga and Planet Zycron. It doesn’t sound like it should work, but the story is only made richer by these contrasting worlds.

The novel opens with Iris Chase recalling that her sister drove a car off a bridge. Iris is now eighty-three, and so begins the first of three story threads in The Blind Assassin: her tale of her present-day life as an old woman haunted by her past, and the need she feels to record her history truthfully. Iris then returns to the beg... Read More

Oryx and Crake: A scathing condemnation of the world we are creating

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

In Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood details an apocalyptic plague, introduces a new species of creatures that have been genetically designed to replace humanity, and the villain is a mad scientist in love. What could be more “SFF” than Oryx and Crake?

Quite a lot, according to Margaret Atwood, who prefers to describe her novel as “speculative fiction” rather than “science fiction.” In interviews promoting Oryx and Crake, Atwood explained that everything that takes place in Oryx and Crake is based on trends that we can see today, as opposed to distant planets that have an allegorical connection to our lives. Atwood is “speculating” about where our society is headed. It’s a distinction that some readers may choose to reject, but it’s an approach that ... Read More

Year of the Flood: On the Edge

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

[In our “The Edge of the Universe” column we review authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.]

It is well documented that SFF readers love trilogies, prequel trilogies, tetralogies, and “cycles.” Some authors describe settings, but SFF authors “build” worlds and universes. For many SFF readers, the standard of a well-built world is whether or not it warrants a series.

In Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood tells the story of Crake, a brilliant scientist who decides to save Earth by wiping out humanity, including himself, and replacing it with a new species of beings. To say the least, Crak... Read More

MaddAddam: Concludes one of the smartest trilogies out there

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

is the concluding volume of Margaret Atwood’s post human-apocalypse trilogy, which began with Oryx and Crake and continued with Year of the Flood. I say “Post-human-apocalypse” rather than post-apocalyptic because more so than most novels in this sub-genre, I’d say Atwood makes it pretty clear that our apocalypse is not the world’s, that in fact, this little blue ball of water and rock will spin on quite nicely without us, as will whatever life inhabits it at the time. So sorry humanity, contrary to what you might think, once you’re gone, Earth isn’t going to curl up into the fetal position with a pint of ice cream and an old tee-shirt. It’s seeing other species.

Like the prior two novels, and you really should read those before reading MaddAddam, the third book goes back and forth in time. One track shows us what the w... Read More

The Penelopiad: A razor-sharp retelling

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

It is Alicia Ostriker, in her wonderful collection of essays Dancing at the Devil’s Party, who writes “the true poet is necessarily the partisan of energy, rebellion, and desire, and is opposed to passivity, obedience, and the authority of reasons, laws and institutions.” Daring to deconstruct one of the most dearly held myths of the Western world, Margaret Atwood’s 2005 The Penelopiad is certainly a tango step or two with the one with the pitchfork tail. Taking The Odyssey and turning it on its head, from comedy to tragedy, Atwood gives readers Penelope’s side of the story.

Narrated from Hades, The Penelopiad is a recounting of Penelope’s life from beyond the grave. Atwood utilizes not only The Odyssey Read More

In Other Worlds: Not what I was expecting

In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood

I confess to being somewhat disappointed by In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, Margaret Atwood’s collection of essays (along with a handful of fiction shorts) dealing with science fiction. She has long been a favorite author of mine, and her science fiction (or speculative fiction as she’d prefer) works are my favorites among her books: The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, the science fiction elements of The Blind Assassin. She’s also an insightful critic and a sharp non-fiction writer. So I was looking forward to seeing her thoughts on the field I’ve been reading in for so long.

The problem may have been one of expectati... Read More

Stone Mattress: Nine new tales from Margaret Atwood

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is hardly an unappreciated author. Booker winner, seemingly constant nominee for the Orange and Booker prizes, Harvard Arts Medal, Orion Book Award, and the list goes on. But one thing I’d say she doesn’t get enough credit for is her humorous touch, which can be scathingly, bitingly funny, and which is on frequent display in her newest collection of short stories, Stone Mattress: Nine Tales.

The anthology is comprised of nine “tales” (in the afterword, Atwood explains why she prefers that descriptor), the first three of which — “Alphinland”, “Revenant”, and “Dark Lady” are tightly linked by character and events. The others are independent, though they do share some similar themes and characters — vengeance, the travails (and pleasures) of aging, a deliciously macabre tone. Like nearly all such collections, some stories ... Read More

The Heart Goes Last: Has its moments

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

I consider Margaret Atwood to be a literary treasure. The Handmaid’s Tale. Alias Grace. The Blind Assassin. The MADDADDAM trilogy. Any author would be thrilled to have written a single work evincing such craft and depth. Atwood churns them out on a regular basis. That context is important here, because her most recent work, The Heart Goes Last, is in my mind definitely a “lesser” Atwood and is in several ways a disappointing work. But that’s “lesser” and “disappointing” in relation ... Read More

Hag-Seed: A mostly magical updating of The Tempest

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

In the Vintage Hogarth Series, contemporary authors put their individual novelistic spin on a Shakespeare play. So far the series has seen the release of Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time (The Winter’s Tale), Howard Jacobson’s Shylock is My Name (The Merchant of Venice), Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl (The Taming of the Shrew), and now Margaret Atwood’s Hag-seed (2016), which for most of its 300+ pages is a wonderfully charming, witty, and at times moving update of The Tempest, set not on a mysterious island but instead in a medium-security prison in Canada.

Early in Hag-Seed Read More

Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood

Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas & Tamra Bonvillain

For a literary giant who is approached with a seriousness that borders on reverence, Margaret Atwood is perfectly willing to have fun and write whatever she wants. Sometimes that is clearly genre-tinged; sometimes it is darkly humorous, and sometimes it’s a graphic novel for children about a superhero who is part human, part cat and part owl. And that’s the premise of Angel Catbird, Volume 1.

Atwood’s story and words are illustrated by Johnnie Christmas and colored by Tamra Bonvillain. (I do wonder whether at least one of those surnames is a pseudonym.) Christmas’s images have a simple, comic-strip look to them. With a few exceptions, they reminded me of Kid Beowulf by Alexis Farjado. They’re at least in that style. Bonvillain nicely mixes color palettes to create a feeling of fluorescent lightin... Read More

Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury: Four great stories make it easy to recommend

Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury edited by Sam Weller & Mort Castle

Thanks to our recent book chats here, I’ve reread a bit of Ray Bradbury lately, so I was well primed to pick up the 2012 tribute anthology edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle, entitled Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, which collects 26 contemporary authors who were asked to write a story inspired or informed by Bradbury. The task was sufficiently non-restrictive that the stories run a gamut of style and type: horror, fantasy, dystopia, science fiction, as well as several with no fantastical element whatsoever, which may surprise those who know Bradbury only through classic novels like Fahrenheit 451 or Something Wicked This Way Comes, or collections suc... Read More