If you binged Margaret Atwood's classic work of speculative fiction and want more, add these books to your pile.
Between the award-winning Hulu show (now streaming its second season) and the current political climate, The Handmaid’s Tale is feeling awfully relevant these days. Lucky for you, if you loved Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel, there’s more feminist science fiction where that came from.
The Power, by Naomi Alderman
If you’re sick of reading about women who are systematically oppressed, how about a book in which women seize power over society as a whole? In The Power, young girls wake up one morning to find that they can spontaneously generate electric shocks from their bodies. Their ability to control this power varies, and the shocks range from mild to deadly. But all of a sudden, teen girls have the power to hurt anyone who tries to touch them. The novel follows four women from vastly different backgrounds as they watch the power dynamics of their society begin to shift. It’s a deft exploration of modern gender politics, for anyone who dreams of flipping the script on the patriarchy.
To buy: $18; amazon.com.
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood
Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in a not-so-distant future. Oryx and Crake, however, is set after the end of the world. Snowman, formerly known as Jimmy, might be the last man on Earth. He’s lost his best friend Crake, and the love of his life, Oryx. Now he must journey through a vast wilderness that was once a great city, searching for answers with the help of the green-eyed “children of Crake.” As he travels, we slowly begin to understand the truth of what happened to this ruined world, and of what happened between Jimmy, Oryx, and Crake just before the end. If you’re looking for more stunning speculative fiction from Atwood, this is the next book to read.
To buy: $10, amazon.com.
Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler
America has fallen into anarchy. Lauren Olamina lives in one of the last safe neighborhoods on the outskirts of L.A., walled in from the chaos outside. But when a fire sweeps through her compound, Lauren finds herself fleeing with a handful of other refugees. As she travels through the ruined American landscape, Lauren also begins to understand her own particular power: She has the ability to feel others’ pain. At first it seemed like a weakness, but now it might be the only chance humanity has of surviving. Parable of the Sower is another classic of feminist sci-fi, and it, too, is feeling far too relevant in modern day America.
To buy: $10, amazon.com.
When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan
When She Woke takes the basic plot of The Scarlet Letter and updates it into a pulse-pounding dystopian thriller. In this world, the church rules the state and felons are no longer imprisoned. Now all convicted sinners are “chromed,” or marked with a color, and released back into the world to be punished by their fellow man. Hannah is guilty of having an abortion. She has been chromed red for murder, and will stay red for the next 16 years. If you’re looking for another captivating book that explores what it is to be a woman in an ultra-conservative future, look no further.
To buy: $11, amazon.com.
The Woman on the Edge of Time, by Marge Piercy
Consuelo Ramos has been declared insane. She’s barely scraping by, she’s lost custody of her daughter, and now she’s been committed to a mental hospital against her will. But Connie knows that she is perfectly sane…she just sometimes has conversations with Luciente, an androgynous young woman from the year 2137. In Luciente’s future, nearly all of society’s problems have been fixed. There’s no class, pollution, racism, hunger or stigma about mental illness. This beautiful future is in trouble, though, and Connie’s actions in the present will decide the ultimate fate of the 22nd Century.
To read: $14, amazon.com.
The Bees, by Laline Paull
Yes, The Bees is quite literally about bees. And yet, Paull manages to take a bunch of interesting insect facts and weave together a dark dystopia in the vein of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games. Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, meant only to clean, obey, and serve the queen. Flora has skills beyond her job description, however, and is soon singled out for greater things. As she moves deeper within the hive’s inner sanctums, though, Flora is increasingly tempted to disobey the fertility police and break the most sacred law of bee society: Only the queen may reproduce.
To buy: $12, amazon.com.
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin
What does a society look like when everyone has the capacity to be both male and female? That’s the question the late Le Guin explores in her masterpiece, The Left Hand of Darkness. A lone human emissary is sent to the planet of Winter to bring it into an intergalactic federation of planets. First, however, he must come to understand the society of Winter, where no one is born with a fixed gender. If you’re tired of rigidly sexist dystopias, spend some time with the androgynous Gethens in a world that is, refreshingly, neither a perfect utopia nor a horrific dystopia.
To buy: $13, amazon.com.