If This Goes On, It Still Won't Be the Handmaid's Tale
I’ve been waiting for someone to accuse me of hypocrisy for liking Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100 ("If this goes on...") and hating Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Mind you, I’m a libertarian which means being accused of hypocrisy is my bread and butter, and if it doesn’t happen at least twice a day I start feeling a little off.
The left, for instance, is fond of accusing me of hypocrisy for the stuff I write, since my moral and religious standing should not allow me to do that. Not that I have a moral or religious stand (or rather I do, but often in a different direction from every other human being). In other words, I’m often enough accused of hypocrisy for not matching their strawman of me, so that I expect to be accused of hypocrisy at the drop of a hat.
But there are substantive reasons why "If this goes on..."/Revolt in 2100 is a worthy contribution to speculative literature, while Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tail survives only by being mercilessly inflicted on school children by their progressive elders. And the reasons go way beyond the fact that the blinkered Atwood refuses to be considered “speculative fiction” under the impression that science fiction is bug-eyed monsters ravishing beauties. (Yeah, she said that. No, seriously.) They even go beyond the fact that Robert A. Heinlein could spin a tale, while Margaret Atwood has the writing skills of a bad porn writer, easily matched by any of a dozen newby erotica writers on Amazon Lending Library who at least, most of the time, manage to make their porn titillating while she only manages to make hers stultifying.
But writing styles are like opinions: everyone has one and everyone has a different taste in them.
The reasons are more substantive when you get to world-building and the nature of fiction.
To the extent one writes science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, it’s because we think or expect our world-building even to hew closer to plausibility than fantasy.
Not that fantasy is exempt from plausibility or from having characters who act like people (unless, of course, they are something else). But in science fiction, we might concede one or two impossible things (faster than light, artificial gravity) but on the whole, we expect the world/events to be something that could happen, given one or two major developments.
Which is where The Handmaid’s Tale deserves all the vile things that can possibly be said about it and a chamberpot of insults besides, because it’s easier to believe in elves, gnomes, and magic that works than in its contorted world-building.
The book might have been all right, at that, if placed in another world far away and with a religion no one ever heard of.