The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

I first read this amazing book about 30 years ago so a re-reading was in order as a prelude to her new book The Testaments. And simply put, the Handmaid’s Tale is a masterpiece. Atwood’s writing is perfect, a slow reveal of the horrors of the Gilead revolution: the rise of totalitarianism and religious fundamentalism, the loss of women’s rights and autonomy with rampant misogyny. Handmaids are possessed by men (Of Fred = Offred) as breeders and are not taught to read! It is chilling to realize that many of the regressive features of Gilead are happening now throughout the world. Atwood is a national treasure.

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

As a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments is equally compelling but with a very different tone. Whereas The Handmaid’s Tale had a single narrator (Offred), The Testaments (set 16 years later) has three voices: two very different young women, one raised in Gilead and one raised outside, and the notorious Aunt Lydia. The resulting story is less introspective with more action, thus less reactive. The seeds of dissent are outlined clearly and logically with some Machiavellian motivations. This is a page turner, a completely engrossing read.

The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas

A sensational first novel for a number of reasons. The important characters are all women. Specifically, four women perfect a time travel procedure; there is no emphasis on technology, the reality of time travel is treated as a matter-of-fact occurrence. Instead, as the title indicates, the story is about the psychological consequences of time travel. Future versions of an individual can co-exist. How do you cope with knowledge about your future self: who you marry, how you die? And finally, the book contains a cracking good mystery. Very entertaining.

Smoke – Dan Vyleta

Sometimes speculative fiction creates entire new fantastical worlds. In other examples, like this book, a paradoxical provocation is introduced to a familiar world, in this case England about a century ago. The novel aspect in this story is that evil in thought or deed is manifested by the emanation of smoke from bodies. This produces a class distinction or separation; the upper class aristocrats and gentry generally do not smoke but the lower working classes are drenched in smoke that becomes a dense soot. So London becomes a particularly dark place. The protagonists are three young people exposed to lies, secrets and increasing violence and treachery. The crucial issues: rich versus poor, political differences, right versus wrong, love versus lust, and lots of guilt. This is very fine writing, reminiscent of some of Stephen King’s best stories.

The Mere Wife – Maria Dahvana Headley

The Mere Wife - Maria Dahvana HeadleyA strange story set in a dystopian future. A feminist story for sure – all the strong characters are women. And thus it is a book about motherhood but in a completely novel and somewhat bizarre fashion: two mothers in an American suburb fight to protect those that they love, so a modern retelling of the literary classic Beowulf with suburban monsters. Sorry to offer such cryptic comments but this is a hard book to categorize and characterize, but excellent speculative fiction.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic – Emily Crow Barker

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic - Emily Crow BarkerThis is really excellent speculative fiction. Nora, an English graduate student, inadvertently crosses a portal into another remarkably different world, a world that is less technologically advanced but with MAGIC. This is an imaginative story of a truly different world. And we learn the difference between a wizard and a magician and how to distinguish real magic, with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice having a prominent role in the story. Very entertaining.

The Power – Naomi Alderman

The Power - Naomi AldermanThis is an excellent example of speculative fiction. Imagine if young women acquire/discover a new physical power, an electrical discharge so by touch they can inflict agonizing pain and even death. This is the ultimate manifestation of girl power! Now imagine the impact of this fierce new female power on religion, politics and crime. This book takes us on an imaginative journey into an alternate reality with many elements that resonate in today’s world. Thanks to Chris/Amy for this recommendation.