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[kuhn-SEP-choo-uhl FIK-shuhn]

Noun:   Storytelling raised to a higher degree through
artful reconfiguration of the reader's conception of reality.
The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood

Reviewed by Ted Gioia

Every so often, a sci-fi scenario finds its
way into the serious fiction shelves.  
Handmaid’s Tale
is one of those works.
So even if the name of the author is
Atwood, don’t expect to find it next to
Asmiov on the bookstore racks. You will
have better luck looking adjacent to Jane

Why are most of the high lit sci-fi novels
based on dystopian future societies? If
you look at 1984 by Orwell or
The Road
by Cormac McCarthy or Brave New
World by Aldous Huxley, they all build
their emotional force by painting the future in dark, foreboding
The Handmaid’s Tale is much the same, and it is not out of
place when considered alongside these classics of the genre.  And
not just for the gloomy totalitarian nature of the world it depicts.
Atwood is a forceful, nuanced writer, and mostly avoids the clichés
and banalities associated with fiction of this sort.

Her novel presents a Taliban-type society in which a centralized
theocracy controls all aspects of day-to-day life, and is especially
oppressive in the restrictions it imposes on women.   Imagine the
type of political and social structure most anathema to subscribers
Cosmopolitan or viewers of the E cable network and you will have
some idea of what Atwood is conceiving.   In other words, this is a
world in which old issues of
Vogue magazine are contraband,
makeup is strictly prohibited, high fashion non-existent and sex
limited to the needs of procreation. . . . Well, maybe not completely.  
There are still some kinks in the process, and the world’s oldest
profession has adapted to the new world order.

What ushered in this new era?  Atwood is sketchy on the details, but
in a prescient passage she mentions that the ruling powers used the
fear of Islamic extremists as justification for its own theocratic
extremism – a fairly interesting detail from a book published in

Atwood is adroit in structuring her narrative, using flashbacks and
shifts in chronology, and mixing first and third-person accounts, in
constructing her tale.  Her writing takes on an ascetic tone that is
well suited to the subject matter, but she adds just the right dose of
metaphor and poetry, while never getting too flashy in a story that
requires a certain amount of starkness in order to set the right
mood.  A surprising epilogue adds a satirical element that contrasts
effectively with the main thrust of the narrative.

As with Orwell, the political angle her is obvious at every turn in this
novel.  But this book never collapses into mere polemic.  And
Atwood’s characters often surprise you, rising above the cartoonish
good-guy versus bad-guy structures of so many dystopian novels.
This is no
Atlas Shrugged.  Hence, in a book focused on the
oppression of women, Atwood takes time to offer some insightful
details on how the patriarchal structure controls the men in society
as well.  Even the most successful participants in the system are
forced into hypocrisy and subterfuge.

All in all, this is a first class novel which has held up with the passing
years, and has well earned its status as a modern-day classic.  When
Atwood wrote this book, many would have seen class differences as
the main driver of future global conflicts, and may even have
envisioned a day when theology no longer figured much in current
events.  But the oldest belief systems have proven to be the most
persistent and deadly. By focusing instead on theocratic impulses
and religion as a channeling force for tyranny, this author has
created a work that is still highly relevant today.
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Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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The House of the Spirits

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Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

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Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

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The Crystal World

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Dandelion Wine

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Fahrenheit 451

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Something Wicked This Way Comes

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A Clockwork Orange

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House of Leaves

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Fifth Business

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Delany, Samuel R.

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Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

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Dick, Philip K.

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Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

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Time Enough for Love

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Winter's Tale

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Brave New World

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Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

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The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

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The Big Time

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Conjure Wife

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His Master's Voice

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The Fortress of Solitude

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Magic for Beginners

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Doctor Faustus

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100 Years of Solitude

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Hell House

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What Dreams May Come

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The Road

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A Canticle for Leibowitz

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Dangerous Laughter

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Cloud Atlas

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Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
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The Time Traveler's Wife

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The Tiger's Wife

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At Swim-Two-Birds

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The Famished Road

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Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

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Gravity's Rainbow

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Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

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Dying  Inside

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Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

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Smith, Cordwainer
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Snow Crash

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More Than Human

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Some of Your Blood

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Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

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The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

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Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

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Infinite Jest

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Hieroglyphic Tales

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The First Men in the Moon

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Lord of Light

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Notes on Conceptual Fiction
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute

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