Margaret Atwood is a Canadian writer best-known for novels including the Man Booker Prize-winning Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood, both of which are set in the near future. British novelist China Miéville often describes his work as “weird fiction”; his books, including Kraken and Un Lun Dun, have been credited with changing the rules of the fantasy and science fiction genres. Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific American novelist, poet, and essayist, as well as author of the recent memoir A Widow’s Story. Her works frequently explore the “other world” located in the human psyche and seek to recreate what she has called “the drama of human personality.”
This panel discussion from the 2012 seminar was moderated by acclaimed science and technology writer James Gleick. He leads Atwood, Miéville, and Oates through a discussion of the tensions between the real and the unreal inherent in writing and reading works of fiction. “All fiction,” says Miéville, “revolves around an oscillation between recognition and estrangement.” “People read or go to art not to get answers,” explains Oates, “but for a thrilling experience that is essentially mysterious.” And while Atwood stresses fiction’s obligation to be “true to life,” she argues that even “ordinary domestic reality” (Gleick’s phrase) often appears surreal, wild, or supernatural when depicted truthfully.
The novelists also discuss the readerly tendency to try to “decode” or “understand” strangeness in fiction and the exceptions to rules that create great works of art. “You can do anything you want” in fiction, says Atwood, “if you can pull it off.” Along the way, the novelists discuss a range of influences and examples, including German author Franz Kafka, Irish satirist Jonathan Swift, science fiction writer J.G. Ballard, philosopher George Santayana, and ghost story writer Algernon Blackwood.
From KWLS 2012: Yet Another World