Margaret Atwood's "The Testaments": a long-awaited Handmaid's Tale sequel fulfills its promise

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When Margaret Atwood published “The Handmaid’s Tale” back in 1985, it was at the dawn of the Reagan era, when the gains made by feminism and other liberation movements trembled before an all-out assault mounted by a bizarre coalition of the super-rich and the (historically apolitical) evangelical movement; 35 years later, even more ground has been lost and in many ways it’s hard to imagine a more apt moment for Atwood to have published a sequel: The Testaments.


This one is next, I guess.


This is the one I’m on now.
It is the most dismal of timelines.


Is anyone out there still writing hopeful sci-fi or “social commentary” novels? Clearly, the current atmosphere of “dystopia’s a-comin’, soon” plays to a lot of societal anxieties. But I, for one, would really rather read today’s verion of “Ectopia” or the equivalent where old and demonstrably toxic gender-roles get tossed in favor of something better that not only reads well but works, based on current understanding of psychology and sociology…

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Anyone have any good recommendations for more reading on this? I’m genuinely curious what’s worse, what’s better, what hasn’t changed, and why.

I was disappointed in The Testaments. It just didn’t hit me in the gut like The Handmaids Tale.

I admit I read the book when it first came out - therefore before I entered menopause - and my only exposure to that content is through the filters of the 1980’s film and the Hulu series.

Still, I could see Baby Nicole a few pages into the book though Aunt Lydia was a bit of a surprise; I had her pictured as an anti-choice organizer since the novel first came out. I’m still curious: If Aunt Lydia was so against Gilead, how come she didn’t end up at Jezebel’s?

The Testaments left me with more questions than it answered; and the ones it answered, it answered patly.

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I think Handmaid’s Tale (I haven’t read Testaments yet) is really a different category of novel than a sci-fi dystopia. Handmaid’s tale reads a lot more like a historical drama, just one that is set in a history that didn’t quite happen. It’s really about how society actually has treated and does treat women (and on the character of people who treat women that way), not about using a set piece to expound on the anxiety of the time.


How about this?

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Too old and too educated; she would have been executed in the stadium had she not appear to cooperate.

I needed to work the angles, once I could find out what the angles were.
I’d been in tight corners before. I had prevailed. That was my story to myself.


Still, you could be forgiven if you were a little nervous about the prospect of a sequel to such an old favorite.

As long as Atticus isn’t a racist in this one, ok.


I wrote a sci-fi novel attempting to “split the difference” between Star Trek utopia and Mad Max dystopia, where everything had stayed exactly the same: not better, not worse. The reviews stated “this work reaches a new plateau of pointlessness…the author’s myopia is contagious, and not in a good way” as well as “if verklempt married ennui and had a child, this would be it”


Exactly. A negative utopia, perhaps, but not one of sci-fi.

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In all seriousness, what was the title?

Walkaway starts dystopic but is actually incredibly hopeful.
Trying to think of a story about an all-good future but really that would be pretty boring to read about.

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The Parable of the Sower series starts very bleak and ends encouragingly.

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I’m agreeing with you here. The Testements story was exposition and some explanation without fire in the belly.


Too old? Maybe. Too educated? No.

The prostitutes include former career women, sociologists or women like Moira, who escaped the Red Center.


Down and out in the magic kingdom. It isn’t recent, it is at least a decade older then Walkaway (same author).


Really? Honest question: how so? In all aspects of culture, progressivism has won or is winning. Who is in the White House has little to do with where the culture is going, “politics being downstream from culture” and all that. For social progressives, the past 35 years have been a series of landslide victories.

I saw this book at my local Sam’s Club recently. It was placed in an … interesting location. I don’t know if a customer did this as a joke, or if an employee did it out of ignorance. I’m leaning towards the latter, but it’s pretty funny regardless.


David Brin.

See the afterward to his novel Earth (1990*), where he talks about his effort to balance the real perils of planet Earth (and the need in fiction for drama) with a fundamental optimism … something to the effect (paraphrasing as best I remember) that Yes, every advance in technology brings new troubles, but those advances also help us out of our old troubles … bootstrapping civilization, as it were.

* Granted, 1990 is not recent, in terms of science fiction But I’ll bet that Brin has the same mindset today as he did then.