Margaret Atwood, eh? While the other big writers of her generation are writing Hamlet from the perspective of a foetus, or being vom-inducingly creepy about their fellow authors, or generally tying themselves in knots about existing in the 21st century, Atwood is getting on with things.
And her latest project is typically forward-thinking – a graphic novel series, Angel Catbird, featuring a half-cat, half-bird superhero, the first volume of which is published by Dark Horse Comics this month (volume two follows in February next year). It is, naturally, an absolute riot and finds Atwood on typically brilliant form, prompting us here at Turnaround to put our heads together and think of a few more reasons why she is just so ruddy marvellous:
1. She can write about the horrors of life under uber-patriarchy, about rape and about loneliness, in a tone accessible to anyone within or outside of feminism. The Handmaid’s Tale is such a perfect primer to the oppression of patriarchy – I really believe somebody who had no awareness of its flaws could pick that book up and have their perspective changed, without knowing they were reading a legendary feminist text.
I wish this wasn’t a necessity anymore, that people would be satisfied to listen to women and their experiences regardless of how they identify politically, but sadly I reckon there are still heaps of people who’d much rather find out about these things from a science fiction book than from a feminist.
2. Because she writes such authoritative novels and creates such unforgettable concepts, but never became the kind of seasoned novelist we’re used to [see intro]. She published her first book-length text 55 years ago for goodness’ sake.
3. She’s about to boss the “re-tell a Shakespeare” game with her nasty-sounding, meta-fictional, prison-set version of The Tempest, titled Hag-Seed (Hogarth, October 2016).
4. Atwood has been criticised for not wanting to call her books science fiction, instead preferring “speculative fiction,” and even has been part of what seems like a polite and respectful feud with Ursula K. Le Guin about the matter. Le Guin has said that Atwood is trying “to protect her novels from being relegated to a genre still shunned by hidebound readers, reviewers and prize-awarders. She doesn’t want the literary bigots to shove her into the literary ghetto.”
Fair enough, but this is more of an issue with the literati than it is with Atwood. Speculative fiction is a speculation on the future of humanity, which will of course be affected by science; however, it is far more about humanity than it is about space travel and aliens and so on. In many cases, “Speculative” is in fact far more appropriate than “Science”, and Atwood has dared to open up the discussion about these genres, helping to popularise both in the process.
5. We still see her happily engage with emerging writers and movements; this conversation with Bitch Planet creator Kelly Sue DeConnick shows so much enthusiasm and generosity from an author of her stature, and I feel like so many other writers who get to that stage get bored and pontificatey (hello Lionel Shriver).
6. Because, in the same vein as above, she actually seems to give a shit about the world and the people in it. See the Green Policies section of her website.
7. Admittedly this isn’t much to do with her, but the covers of her books are always exemplary.
8. She has a cameo in the upcoming Netflix adaptation of her novel Alias Grace as “disapproving old lady in a church.”
9. On top of releasing a graphic novel, she’s also a pretty damn funny (and prolific) cartoonist herself – as this archive of her work shows. She has artwork in Dark Horse’s upcoming anthology, The Secret Loves of Geek Girls, which we’ll have in October.
10. Because – and I’m sorry – she’s just so damn cute? Seeing her ever-smiling face and iconic curls never fails to bring some joy to my day. Thanks Margaret! Keep on keeping on, and we’re looking forward to more Angel Catbird soon!
Angel Catbird Volume 1 is published 8 September by Dark Horse
Watch a preview video on our YouTube channel
Read some preview pages from Dark Horse
Check out her artwork in The Secret Loves of Geek Girls