io9 asked me to contribute a recommendation for what sci-fi book you should read before the election. I was unduly tickled to be the token female in a question about science fiction. On one hand, I’m not like a huge sci-fi geek or anything. On the other hand, I wrote my honors thesis one million years ago about the place of The Handmaid’s Tale in the pantheon of sci-fi, and so I have a soft spot for the genre.* It was sort of my first inkling that feminism could be expanded in creative ways. Of course, as the token feminist, I had to pick The Handmaid’s Tale. Here’s the quote:
It probably sounds a little trite since it gets referenced so much, but in light of the promotion of a true-believer fundamentalist to a national ticket, I have to recommend Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s not just because it’s a dystopia that shows what America would be like under a Christian theocracy, but also because the book brilliantly skewers other aspects of the right-wing culture. You have the female misogynist Serena Joy that finds out the hard way that she isn’t exempt from the category ‘woman’ just because she was a stalwart soldier for the far right. You also are reminded that the conservative men who carry on about sexual morality in public all too often have their own closet full of secrets. The book is a reminder that right wing politics isn’t so much about ‘values’, but about power and control.
When they sent me the question, I understood it to be about books, but that’s just how I think. Reading the email again, I realize that they did make space for movies or TV shows. Which is why Andrew Sullivan picked “Wall E”. Jonah Goldberg picked “Angel” in no small part because an evil character on there was played by a black actor, which caused him all sorts of immediate associations.
The fact that they picked an Amazing Stories issue that featured H.G. Wells reminds me of another interesting tidbit from history. Wells wrote “War of the Worlds” in no small part because he was critical of Western imperialism and wanted to show Westerners what it would feel like to have your society invaded in the same way that Europeans just smashed and burned cultures that didn’t have equal technological capabilities. The direct heir of his writing is the first part of the 3rd season of “Battlestar Galactica”, which tried to drive home the same message by having the shiny and lethal Cylon army marching down the tent city built by the remnants of humanity. Unfortunately, the popularity of “War of the Worlds” never really translated into people understanding larger themes.
*Even this will not convince the wingnutteria that links this blog obsessively that yes, I do have an old-fashioned English lit degree, not a new-fangled women’s studies degree. This amuses me to no end, starting with the fact that women’s studies degrees are so demonized that it’s just assumed that any uppity female must have one.