Margaret Atwood doesn't think she writes science fiction. Ursula K Le Guin would like to disagree
Ursula K Le Guin , The Guardian, Saturday 29 August 2009
The Year of the Flood
by Margaret Atwood
Who can blame her? I feel obliged to respect her wish, although it forces me, too, into a false position. I could talk about her new book more freely, more truly, if I could talk about it as what it is, using the lively vocabulary of modern science-fiction criticism, giving it the praise it deserves as a work of unusual cautionary imagination and satirical invention. As it is, I must restrict myself to the vocabulary and expectations suitable to a realistic novel, even if forced by those limitations into a less favourable stance.
So, then, the novel begins in Year 25, the Year of the Flood, without explanation of what era it is the 25th year of, and for a while without explanation of the word "Flood". We will gather that it was a Dry Flood, and that the term refers to the extinction of - apparently - all but a very few members of the human species by a nameless epidemic. The nature and symptoms of the disease, aside from coughing, are undescribed. One needs no description of such events when they are part of history or the reader's experience; a reference to "the Black Plague" or "the swine flu" is enough. But here, failure to describe the nature of the illness and the days of its worst virulence leaves the epidemic an abstraction, novelistically weightless. Perhaps on the principle that since everything in her novel is possible and may have already happened so the reader is familiar with it, the author doles out useful information sparingly. I sometimes felt that I was undergoing, and failing, a test of my cleverness at guessing from hints, reading between lines and recognising allusions to an earlier novel.