What to read after The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale is a classic of both feminist and dystopian SF, and has inspired a film adaptation and a teevee miniseries. If you've never read it, go and do that right now, but if you’ve already done that and are looking for other books to read that are similar in theme or message, here are ten that will scratch near that itch.
They range in their connection-points - most of the selections involve gender and oppression in some way, many are near-future dystopian novels in which women are segregated and subjugated, forced into baroque reproductive practices, there are some feminist SF novels that subvert the typical power structures, but they pretty much all share the theme of the struggle to preserve dignity and humanity in the face of a tyranny intent on whittling away the most basic human rights.
I tried to stay away from the obvious matches - all those classics of feminist/gender-themed SF that are already known far and wide. If you are new to the genre, but intrigued enough by the recent popularity of the show to explore further, these titles are easily found using the Wiki and Google conveniences, but I could also curate a separate and much larger list to feature them if that would please the Riffle community.
For now, here are 10 books that branch off from The Handmaid’s Tale tree.
In many ways this is a reversal of The Handmaid's Tale, in which pubescent girls develop the ability to shoot electricity from their fingertips, and what happens to the world politically, economically, theologically, biologically, and socially when women suddenly have all the power and influence over men; when they can defend themselves, fight back, and kill effortlessly with their bare hands.
1 / 10
The Handmaid's Tale with beeeeees! What reads like a dystopian scenario to us is just another day in nature for a social species like bees, whose survival depends upon service, sacrifice and a hierarchical division of labor to ensure the continuation of their species. Matched for themes of systematized fertility, individual v. societal needs, and personal desires that violate the order of the hive.
2 / 10
No feminist slant here, but matched on the theme of the commodification of the body: single, childless women over 50 (and men over 60) are sent to live out their lives in a swank facility, obligated to test drugs and gradually donate their organs to more ‘important’ people; a sort of Giving Tree for adults. Dorrit is content with this arrangement until she falls in love with a man in her unit and her values shift.
3 / 10
A mash-up of The Handmaid's Tale and The Scarlet Letter set in a near-future fundamentalist society where wives are the property of their husbands and their reproductive rights have been so curtailed that the crime for abortion is to be "Melachromed" red; a permanent tint identifying them as murderers. Hannah Payne is marked and sent to rehab to 'correct' her sinfulness, resulting in struggles both internal and overt
4 / 10
Neither SF nor dystopian, this historical novel is about women thwarting forces that would oppress them. In the Middle Ages, women had few options: wife/mother, nun, or slave, until they formed beguinages; communities of women who found sanctuary living exclusively among other women. However, women opting to live free from the control of men or religion are dangerous threats to the patriarchy and hostilities brewed.
5 / 10
A more modern take on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic single-gender world novel Herland, matched for feminist SF. Here, we have the planet Jeep, where centuries ago, a virus killed all the men. The planet’s surviving women have had to adapt biologically in order to propagate and socially to reconfigure formerly gendered roles. A female anthropologist arrives with a possible vaccine and disrupts the society.
6 / 10
Just another cautionary dystopia centered around governmental overreach into women's reproductive rights and the resulting revolutionary backlash such meddling would surely provoke from women who might not want to be fitted with contraceptive coils, subjected to inspections by male bosses at their workplace, who escape to form their own society intent on repaying injustices. (also published as The Carhullan Army)
7 / 10
Don’t read this if you're a SF purist, because the ‘science’ is bonkers: a sudden contagion affects all blonde females, dyed or otherwise, causing them to fly into murderous rages without provocation. It’s not a particularly feminist story; there’s no political or social messaging driving the novel, but like Atwood, it’s Canadian speculative fiction about fear and suspicion directed at women who cannot be controlled.
8 / 10
M. D. Waters
A rare genre-blend of SF and psych suspense. In a near-future world with a diminished female population, fertile women are sent to camps where they wait to be chosen to wed a powerful man. A married woman wakes one day with her memory erased, and is "reminded" of her past by her husband, but her vivid dreams contradict his testimony with images of another life, another man, in a suspenseful story of truth and trust.
9 / 10
This memoir is written by a woman who escaped from the notorious FDLS community headed by Warren Jeffs, whose treatment of women was in many ways similar to Atwood’s imaginings: controlling polygamous marriages, sexual training, banning books and formal education, and escalating cruelty. There are many recent survivor memoirs written by former members of this community, but I chose this one for that red dress nod.
10 / 10