IN OTHER WORLDS

SF AND THE HUMAN IMAGINATION

A witty, astute collection of essays and lectures on science fiction by the acclaimed novelist.

The motivation for this book is a review of Atwood’s 2009 novel, The Year of the Flood, in which Ursula K. Le Guin accused Atwood of rejecting the term “science fiction” in connection to her own work, lest it trap her in a populist ghetto. In the three new lectures that anchor this collection, Atwood shows that such claims are unfounded. She’s just careful about terminology, and her close studies of H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and Le Guin herself prove she’s not just playing semantic games. In one lecture, she recalls her obsession with sci-fi tales as a child and studies the ways that the genre’s tropes have been the bedrock of storytelling since antiquity. In another, she discusses “ustopia,” the term she uses for her own forays into science fiction, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and Oryx and Crake (2003), in addition to The Year of the Flood. “Ustopia” reflects her belief that every dystopian tale has a utopian one embedded in it, and vice versa; for instance, George Orwell’s 1984 concludes with a faux postscript that suggests that the grim authoritarian society it depicts ultimately faded. The individual reviews read like rehearsals for the themes she covers in the longer lectures, but they’re worth reading in their own right: Atwood is a stellar reviewer who deftly exposes the ironies and ideas embedded in books by Rider Haggard, Kazuo Ishiguro and Jonathan Swift, and her tone easily shifts from rigorous academic to wisecracking feminist. A handful of fictional excerpts prove that she can walk it like she talks it: Whatever name she applies to the work, it’s clear that her affection for the genre is deep and genuine. Wholly satisfying, with plenty of insights for Atwood and sci-fi fans alike.

 

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53396-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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