Margaret Atwood on how she became a sci-fi writer
In this excerpt from her collection of essays, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, the Booker Prize-winning author reveals the source of her passion for sci-fi: Tinkertoy.
Where does all of this come from—the reading, the writing, the engagement, and especially the wilder storms on the wilder seas of invention? Everyone wants to know this about writers: What is your inspiration, what put you up to it? They're never satisfied with such explanations as 'Because it was there' or 'I don't know what came over me.' They want specifics.
So let me try this:
As a young child, living briefly in the winter of 1944-5 in an old house in Sault Ste. Marie, I used to get up before anyone else was awake and climb to the cold but spacious attic, where in a state of solipsistic bliss I would build strange habitations and quasi-people with a bunch of sticks and spools called Tinkertoy. What I really wanted to make was the windmill pictured on the box, but my set didn't have the necessary parts, and as it was wartime I was unlikely ever to possess the missing items.
Some say that the art one makes as an adult supplies the absence of things longed for in childhood. I don't know whether or not this is true. If I'd been able to create that windmill, would I have become a writer? Would I have become a writer of SF? We'll never know the answer to that question, but it's one theory."
—Excerpted from In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination
Margaret Atwood is the author of more than fifty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. Her latest book, MaddAddam (2013), is the third novel in Oryx and Crake trilogy. Other recent publications include Moral Disorder, a collection of interconnected short stories, The Door, a volume of poetry (both 2007), Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (2008), and In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, a collection of essays on science fiction. Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.