Author announcement: Exclusive extract from Margaret Atwood’s new novel in Arc 1.1

3 Feb

“Zeb was lost. He sat down under a tree.”

“Bearlift”, new fiction by Margaret Atwood, appears in the first edition of Arc,  available in late February 2012. It’s an eerie exploration of the near future, drawn from her new novel, Maddaddam, the third book in the triptych that began with Oryx and Crake. And we do mean new: our extract from Maddaddam is hot off Atwood’s printer: the finished novel won’t be out until 2013.

So what can we say about the Booker and Clarke award-winner’s eagerly anticipated book?

Well, it plays with notions of myth and story – the transformation of “the world as it is” into a world we poor bare forked humans imagine we control. It is very funny – though the reader runs a perennial risk, in this deadly/pretty landscape, of having their laughter freeze in their throat. And it concerns the mis-spent youth of Zeb, whom we first met among the Gods’ Gardeners in The Year of the Flood —where it was rumoured among the awe-struck youngsters that he had once flown for Bearlift, and had eaten both a bear and his co-pilot.   

“The tree was in a big open space, wide and flat, like the beach except there was no sand and no sea, only some chilly pools and a lot of moss. All around but quite far away there were mountains.
“Mountains are very large and high rocks. No, those are not mountains, those are buildings, way over there. Buildings fall down, and then they make a crash. A crash is a big noise and sharp pieces coming off, and those can hurt you. That is why you must not go into any buildings. No, that is not a building, it is a house.

“Yes, mountains fall down too but they do it very slowly. No, the mountains did not fall down on Zeb.”

Margaret Atwood has found time – amidst her writing, criticism and environmental activism – to be a tremendous friend to Arc, spreading the word about our venture on-line and in person for months now. Her aim, she says, is to aid the development of outlets and markets for science fiction authors, and to see the form grow into new forms and address new audiences.

This is an aim we share. Science fiction is about change, and its mercurial adaptation to new ideas and new circumstances will always give its more unwary fans conniptions. Atwood herself felt “science fiction” was an inaccurate label for her own SF writing, and received a forklift-load of grief for her chutzpah.

We can argue labels till the cows come home (cows, or whatever succeeds cows). But if anything, Bearlift proves Atwood’s point: it’s not trying to “reinvent” the genre, or genres; nor is it ignoring, circumventing or celebrating it. It’s not a self-reflexive exercise in genre. It’s interested in the future – of things, people and feelings. Atwood’s 40-year career reminds us that good writers, whatever their affiliations, are always bigger than the genre they work in.

“So Zeb looked at the mountains that were all around him but quite far away, and he thought: How will I get through these mountains? They are so large and high. He did not know the way out.

“Well, he needed to get through them because the people were on the other side. He didn’t want to be all alone. Nobody wants to be all alone, do they?

“No, they were not people like you. They had extra skins – they had clothes on.

“Yes. More like me. Only thicker clothes, because it was colder there.

“So Zeb looked at the mountains and the pools and the moss all around, and he thought: What will I eat?  And then he thought: Those mountains have a lot of bears living in them.

“A bear is a large furry animal with a lot of sharp teeth. No, bigger than a bobkitten. Bigger than a wolvog. This big.

“It speaks with a growl. It gets very hungry. It tears things apart.”

Find out what happens next in Arc 1.1, available in late February.

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