I know, I know: symptomatic of the genre’s neuroses, you’ve seen it all before, and a science fiction novel just won a Pulitzer, for heaven’s sake. But sometimes I can’t help myself. Here’s Joyce Carol Oates on Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse:
Long the province of genre entertainments—science fiction, dystopia fantasy, post-apocalyptic movies—the future has been boldly explored in recent years by such writers as P. D. James (“The Children of Men”), John Updike (“Toward the End of Time”), Margaret Atwood (“The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Oryx and Crake”), Doris Lessing (“Mara and Dann”), and Cormac McCarthy (“The Road”). Now comes a grim prophetic fable by the much admired British writer Jim Crace, who in previous novels—“The Gift of Stones,” set at the dawn of the Bronze Age; “Quarantine,” in the time of Christ—has shown a flair for imaginatively evoking the past. Kingsley Amis once remarked that there isn’t much point to writing if you can’t annoy someone; it might be said that there isn’t much point to writing about the future unless you can frighten someone. Certainly, most fiction about the future—not least the famous dystopian works by Wells, Huxley, and Orwell—is designed to unsettle and provoke. These novels are fundamentally didactic; their authors have crucial lessons to impart. Contemporary “speculative fiction” shares that aim; it extrapolates from current conditions and urges us to confront the consequences.
Bobbins, start to finish. I might just be persuaded to let her get away with “most fiction about the future is designed to […] provoke”, but I point and laugh at “it might be said that there isn’t much point to writing about the future unless you can frighten someone”, and her attempt to potrary McCarthy, James, Atwood et al as a band of brave pilgrims, bringing civilisation to the wilderness.