Unless you have been living under a rock or avoiding Facebook (in which case, you're probably more emotionally healthy than the rest of us), you have probably heard that Margaret Atwood's pioneering work of speculative fiction, The Handmaid's Tale, will soon be a Hulu series starring Elizabeth Moss, Samira Wiley, and Joseph Fiennes. This is not the first time it has been adapted for the (big or little) screen, and it's even been made into an opera. But the story, originally published in 1985, seems particularly relevant, and prophetic, today. Grappling with themes including reproductive rights (or lack thereof), racism, fundamentalism, and even fake news, it's a cautionary tale flirting with the truth.
Here, Ms. Atwood reveals some of her favorite speculative fictions, after a little terminology lesson.
There is still some fuzziness around the terms “speculative fiction” and “science fiction.” Some say that “speculative fiction” includes such things as horror and reality-based dystopias and vampire stories, with “science fiction” being a subset. Others make a distinction between “science fiction” – hard and soft, but involving other planets and universes accessed by devices we do not currently have and cannot realistically expect to have – and “speculative fiction,” located on this earth and containing no devices that we cannot currently foresee. Let’s just say that there is a difference in nature between stories set in a universe far, far away – some call these “science fiction fantasy” -- and those set on this planet, in a future we can plausibly describe, though not infallibly predict. (No predictions are infallible.) All fictions both entertain – otherwise nobody turns the pages – and also instruct – because stories will inevitably be given a moral interpretation by readers, language and people being what they are. But the far, far away galaxy kind – let us call them “zucchinis” – will inspire less immediate fear than the other kind – let us call them “beets.”
The list below is a list of “beets.” There are many more, but these are some of the books I have read and enjoyed. They concern this earth and what is possible on it, given the knowledge available at the time of their writing. They are mostly dystopias – they describe a world we would rather not have. But some are utopias – they point to improvements. Every utopia contains a little dystopia, and every dystopia contains a little utopia, or at least a better world. Otherwise, farewell to hope and fear.
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