The Margaret Atwood instruction manual

atwood
Margaret Atwood. Image from ElectricLiterature.com

I’ve seen a lot of comments from friends that we’re entering the world of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel about a future America that’s been turned into a theocracy. Here, let’s see how Wikipedia describes the setting:

Beginning with a staged terrorist attack (blamed on Islamic extremists) that kills the President and most of Congress, a movement calling itself the “Sons of Jacob” launches a revolution and suspends the United States Constitution under the pretext of restoring order. They are quickly able to take away all of women’s rights, largely attributed to financial records being stored electronically and labelled by gender.

Hmmm. It can’t happen here, can it? Watch out for those false flags, Alex Jones!

But I’ve been thinking about two of Atwood’s more recent speculative novels, “Oryx and Crake” and “The Year of the Flood.” In these books, society has crumbled thanks to corporate overreach, environmental disaster and a growing divide between rich and poor.

When I interviewed Atwood in 2010, she observed that “The Year of the Flood” wasn’t that far removed from the present. That’s the case with the best dystopian works — even George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” took the disturbing trends of 1948, the year he wrote it, and played them out into the future.

“That’s what that kind of book is for — it’s for looking at things and pushing them a little bit further along the path, to see what it would be like if we went there,” she told me. “The Handmaid’s Tale,” for example, was written at the peak of the Reagan administration, when the Moral Majority and Pat Robertson were feeling their oats and Edwin Meese was running the Justice Department.

These days, we’re already in a world in which the powerful downplay the consequences of their actions while the rest of us watch gaps grow wider. (Ironically, given some of Donald Trump’s cabinet and agency choices, we may have to depend on corporations to look out for our welfare. Such a partnership, however, may lead to Atwood’s even more tightly entwined world of government-corporate rule.) It’s just too bad that some of the bad boys don’t have the darkly amusing names Atwood gives her villains; my favorite remains “CorpSeCorps,” the corporate security force.

There’s a third book in Atwood’s trilogy, “MaddAddam.” In that novel, a small group of survivors manages to rebuild civilization after its collapse. I hope we don’t have to get to that point.

In the meantime, SecretBurger, anyone?

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