The Handmaid’s tale is a staple of science fiction and yet it’s very much discussed whether or not it actually is science fiction at all. Although the exact year is never given judging by the technology it is set to sometime in the 1980’s or early 1990’s on the East Coast of the United States. The area is suddenly taken over by a movement called “Sons of Jacob” who install a patriarchal theocracy in one fell swoop following a terrorist attack blamed on islamic extremists. The new state is dubbed The Republic of Gilead and one of its very first decrees is to disallow women to work and to hold money. They soon start rounding up young single and gay women and wives from marriages where one partner has been previously married into Red Centers as undesirables to be re-educated into Handmaids. A Handmaid’s job is to act as basically a walking womb for couples who do not have children, though in practice this is only reserved for Commanders of the Gileadan party. Apart from monthly Ceremony nights where the Commander and his Wife ritually rape the Handmaid, her job is only to work on being a healthy and worthy chalice for the coming baby. If a Handmaid fails to conceive in three separate households, where they live for some time, they are declared an Unwoman and sent off to the Colonies.
This book was really hard for me to read. The depression and desperation the protagonist feels is vivid and frankly very creepy. The villains are believable and, worse yet, understandable. Even though you start hating every one of the characters, including the protagonist, at one point or another everyone’s motives are completely understandable. And that’s what makes it all so horrifying. On the other hand, part of the horror is in that it seems like there are a lot of people in the U.S. seem to be salivating at the possibility of the type of society that Gilead represents. That, if anything is damn scary.
In any case, I recommend this book if only for the psychological thriller aspects. Like I said it’s a science fiction staple on par with 1984 and it’s ilk and worth reading for that reason as well. And if nothing else, read it to form an opinion on whether or not it’s science fiction.
YA/MG Science Fiction
Adult Science Fiction
Science Fiction Classic – Pre-1950s
Science Fiction Modern Classic – 1951-1992
Time Travel/Alternate History/Parallel Universe
Mad Scientists/Genetic Testing/Environmental Disaster