The Science Fiction Checklist Challenge: Near Future

~posted by Lindsay S.

I would like to talk to you about the wonder that is Margaret Atwood, but I feel a little weird associating her with a Science-Fiction checklist. Margaret Atwood writes important novels like The Handmaid’s Tale. She’s a serious author and science-fiction is so very genre. It would be like suggesting William Shakespeare wrote Fantasy – very near to heresy in some circles.

Of course, Shakespeare wrote a whole play about fairies and Margaret Atwood writes “Speculative Fiction” which is what people call genre fiction when they don’t want to be associated with the rest of us “genre-readers.”

In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, which is a horrifying glimpse into a near future where religion has run amok, Atwood also wrote the Maddadam Trilogy (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and Maddaddam), which takes readers on a crazy ride into the far distant future, the near(ish) future, through the end of the world and into the start of the new. It’s a hard trilogy to pin down in simple terms, but that’s one of the things that Atwood, and Speculative Fiction in general, does really well; shows you what’s coming in a year or two or fifty and ties it just enough to what’s happening right now to make it uncomfortable and unnervingly plausible. It’s a warning of sorts, a prophecy even, telling us what we could face if we don’t pull our heads out of our… books.

Although I do like Margaret Atwood for this (and I think The Handmaid’s Tale should be required reading for everyone), she’s not the only speculative, near-future writer out there. The term ‘speculative fiction’ is actually credited by some to Robert Heinlein (at least according to Wikipedia) and authors like George Orwell (1984) and Cormac McCarthy (The Road) make appearances on the list as well.  For the purposes of our checklist, we’re looking at the authors and titles that deal with a plausible and disconcerting future. Books like Make Room! Make Room! By Harry Harrison, that tells the story of an over-crowded Earth and stories like The Repossession Mambo (Repo Men) by Eric Garcia, which delves into the terrifying world of artificial organs. Sure, these tales could fit in other places on our list – they are pretty dystopian, for example – but they also fit snugly here, in the world that could be, that might be, that probably will be, if we’re not careful.

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