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Dystopian Feminist Book Club: Recommendations for Similar Books, Movies, and TV Shows

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A few people have mentioned other books, tv shows, and movies in various threads for The Handmaid's Tale, so I thought it might be useful to have a thread where people can share suggestions (they don't necessarily have to be dystopian feminist speculative fiction either). Feel free to share a brief synopsis of whatever you recommend, but if you get much deeper into the details, please put the rest under a spoiler cut so that people aren't spoiled before they decide whether or not to watch/read your suggestion!

Any recommendations on other Margaret Atwood books to start us off?

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I recently read Oryx and Crake, also by Margaret Atwood (and the first in the MaddAddam trilogy) and quite liked it.  Not surprisingly, it touched on a lot of the same issues as The Handmaid's Tale.  A couple other books I would recommend are Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker.  They both have a very different feel from The Handmaid's Tale, but they also dealt with the breakdown of society.

And, if YA is more your jam, there is no shortage of Dystopian Lit available there....

ETA: Bookish pet peeve that I just committed...but Station Eleven and The Age of Miracles are both apocalyptic, not dystopian.  I would still recommend them, though....

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When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is one that gets lumped together with The Handmaid's Tale a lot.  It's been years since I read it but I've seen it described as a sort of dystopian Scarlet Letter, which sounds about right.

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I'll echo @OtterMommy recs for both Station Eleven and The Age of Miracles. The latter especially, since it really is about the collapse of 'Normal'.

For something slightly more dystopian/sci-fi there's Octavia E. Butler's Earthseed-series: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, which "depict the struggle of the Earthseed community to survive the socioeconomic and political collapse of twenty-first century America due to poor environmental stewardship, corporate greed, and the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor," according to Wikipedia (because I am lazy). The Parable books also deal extensively with race and intersectionality, something that's been a bit lacking on this show. I've read most of her books and I really love her writing.

In keeping with the 70s gender politics and female sci-fi/dystopian writers there is of course Angela Carter's The Passion of New Eve ("The book is set in a dystopian United States where civil war has broken out between different political, racial and gendered groups. A dark satire, the book parodies primitive notions of gender, sexual difference and identity from a post-feminist perspective" - thank you, wiki) and Sheri S. Tepper's* The Gate to Women's Country (

Spoiler

"Set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women's Country"

) I read these two around the same time as I did The Handmaid's Tale, because my mom gave me all the books of her (activist) youth, and they freaked me out - in a good way. My mom is awesome ;)

Joanna Russ' The Female Man deals with some of the same themes (although it is more of a sci-fi story) and Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness really speaks to male/colonial priviledge. Fay Weldon's The Cloning of Joanna May has a lighter voice, but is still scarily easy to imagine could happen. 

*My favourite Tepper is Beauty which is a feminist retelling of just about every Western fairy tale. We start with Sleeping Beauty and ends up in space!

** Serious warnings for triggers (mainly rape) in most of these stories. Especially Carter's.

Edited by feverfew
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I second the recommendation for The Gate to Women's Country (and would add Gibbon's Decline and Fall to the list of relevant Tepper), but that may be one of the worst descriptions of a setting that I've ever read, given that

Spoiler

the fact that they don't know if there are other political altvernatives is relevant to the plot. Although I just read the description they use at my local library and their description is worse; it implies that the book is primarily about Chernon leading the men in a revolt against the ruling women. Maybe it's a hard book to summarize. 

Edited by jennblevins · Reason: Thought of an actual recommendation, rather than just complaining.
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11 hours ago, jennblevins said:

I second the recommendation for The Gate to Women's Country (and would add Gibbon's Decline and Fall to the list of relevant Tepper), but that may be one of the worst descriptions of a setting that I've ever read, given that

  Hide contents

the fact that they don't know if there are other political altvernatives is relevant to the plot. Although I just read the description they use at my local library and their description is worse; it implies that the book is primarily about Chernon leading the men in a revolt against the ruling women. Maybe it's a hard book to summarize. 

No, no, complain away! I really was too lazy when I wrote that post (it's been ages since I read The Gate to Women's Country, so forgot the possibility for spoilers. My apologies). Never read Gibbon's Decline and Fall; perhaps I should reread Tepper this summer?

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It's not dystopian, but for me, probably since I read them at about the same time for some reason, though this was published in 1977, http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/04/19/specials/tyler-french.html, THE WOMEN'S ROOM really seems to go together with THE HANDMAID'S TALE.  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/womens-room-marilyn-french/1100370341

To describe the book just a little bit, it's basically about the casual and not so casual misogyny that goes on everyday, everywhere, to every women, not written as a lecture, but as a story.  Oddly, my favorite line from the book, or the one that stayed with me is "Who cleans the toilet?"  It seems like such a small thing, but after reading the entire book, it's nearly rage educing  Honestly, I've never read it again because it took me months to shake the awareness she brought out in me, and I almost had to shake it, or fight with my boyfriend or men about everything.   It may also have been one of the first books about rape culture, it was certainly the first I'd read.

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The heroine is a woman named Mira, and the plot is simply a study of how she feels about herself (or really, about being female) during childhood, a conventional marriage, a sudden divorce and eventual independence. She starts out submissive and repressed, anxious to live up to other people's expectations of her. She ends up liberated but lonely, painfully adjusting to a new kind of life. It's the period in between that makes the books so interesting.

"Who cleans the toilet?" if I remember correctly, was in response to some women that was talking about how wonderful her husband is for sharing responsibilities around the house, even though both of them worked.

I honestly don't think reviews do it justice.  Ha.

Edited by Umbelina
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This would probably be for more of historical interest, but there's a book written in 1967 called "Implosion" by D.F Jones.  It's a science fiction/dystopian novel about a chemical weapon unleashed on Great Britain that causes widespread sterility in women.  Fertile women are quickly identified, rounded up and used as breeding machines, called "Mothers of the Nation", subjected to endless pregnancies of multiple births (fertility treatments) until they're worn out.  The problem quickly spreads to the rest of the world and similar measures take place around the world with various degrees of "success".  

It's a novel of it's time, complete with outdated social and sexual attitudes, but interesting both in spite of and because of that.  And it has an ending that.....well, I never forgot it.

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I don't know if this one counts, because it's so unlike anything else I've encountered that I really don't know what boxes to put it in, but there's a book called I Who Have Never Known Men, by Jacqueline Harpman, about a teenager or young woman who has spent her entire life in a cage with 39 other women. They end up being freed, and then set out to try to find other people. Much more than that would spoil the unsettling nature of the whole thing. Not sure if it counts as feminist, but it's certainly some combination of post-apocalyptic and dystopian, and it has stayed with me for years.

Edited by kingshearte · Reason: Wrong number of women
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The White Plague by Frank Herbert (of Dune fame). A molecular biologist watches his wife and two children killed in a bombing by Irish terrorists. In his mental breakdown he splits into fragment personalities - one of which crafts a plague that attacks only women, but is carried by men. He lets loose the viral plague in England, Ireland and Libya warning the world to send all citizens back to those countries and quarantine them or he will release the virus worldwide. 

Which happens anyway and set the entire world scrambling to quarantine fertile women and to find some kind of antidote to the virus. 

I'm not sure if this falls under apocalyptic or dystopian as it starts out in our modern world (set in the 80's I believe) and ends with virtually every woman in the world dead (I believe the M:F::10,000:1). Still it's thought provoking and interesting read. 

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Children of Men by PD James, set in a dystopian UK where humanity faces extinction after 18 years of global human fertility is another good suggestion.  It was adapted as a film by Alfonso Cuaron. 

The other one that comes to mind is Y: The Last Man written by Brian K Vaughan and illustrated by Pia Guerra.  Vaughan is also the main writer of Saga, another very feminist comic book. 

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Kindred by Octavia Butler isn't dystopian--it's time travel into the antebellum South--but it hit a lot of the same feelings for me that The Handmaid's Tale did.  It's about an African American woman who is "called" back to pre-Civil War Maryland by her great-great-whatever-grandfather, who is white.  Because she's African American, she essentially becomes his slave when she's back there.  

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16 hours ago, anyanka323 said:

Vaughan is also the main writer of Saga, another very feminist comic book. 

I love Saga, but is it "feminist"? Thanks for the heads up on Y: The Last Man

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On 5/26/2017 at 0:34 PM, Umbelina said:

 

"Who cleans the toilet?" 

 

I'm a woman, I've been living with my boyfriend for years, and I don't think I've ever cleaned the toilet. It looks clean, so I guess he does it ;-). 

I highly recommend When She Woke. 

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I second "The Women's Room" by M. French.  Great, great book that centers on women's everyday roles in the 1950s to 1970s.  I also really enjoyed the original Women's Lib. book, "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Freidan.  "She's Come Undone" is also a good read.

Edited by In a dream
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On 5/25/2017 at 8:27 PM, feverfew said:

Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness really speaks to male/colonial priviledge.

This is one of my favorite novels ever. It is a great, thinky adventure story. I didn’t read the society portrayed in Left Hand as a dystopia, but rather a world coping in an ice age. They have issues but aren’t on the verge of collapse IIRC (Damn, now I have to go re-read it…)

I also recommend  LeGuin’s The Dispossessed. This novel isn’t dystopian either, but it does deal  with gender roles and how the ways men and woman interact and work together (or don't) can shape a society.

Edited by marinw
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I went on a LeGuin binge two years ago, and really haven't stopped.

I've never been a sci-fi kind of reader, though I've certainly read some, and frankly, enjoyed all that I have read.  I wonder why I don't read more really.

Odd way I decided to read LeGuin?  A very lovely little movie, Jane Austen's Book Club.  A very nice character kept trying to get a closed off but also nice character to read it, thought she would like it.   She didn't for a long time, finally does, and ends up reading all night long, loving it.

Her books, to me anyway, are especially good considering when they were written.  Great literature?  No.  Perfect writing?  Not really.  Incredible imagination and powerful stories and messages?  Oh hell yes.

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Someone already mentioned Children of Men as a book and mentioned the movie. 

I haven't read the book but the movie was great and had very similar ideas about fertility- the lack of babies was mysterious but also a punishment for going wrong somehow. I thought Cuaron (the director) did a really good job of situating this extreme dystopian situation in a way that was very recognizable.- there were images that looked like things we see on the news. In a similar way this show places these people in situations we recognize but pushed to the extreme. 

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Has anyone read or watched Alias Grace (also by Margaret Atwood, also on Netflix)? It's not dystopian since it's based on a real crime, but there are a lot of feminist themes on the show about women's roles, how they're treated by men, etc. I just finished watching the tv show and it was very well acted (particularly by the actress who played the main character), beautifully shot, and really held my interest about what happened.

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12 hours ago, ElectricBoogaloo said:

Has anyone read or watched Alias Grace (also by Margaret Atwood, also on Netflix)?

*Raises Hand*. I enjoyed this series a lot. Some people had issues with the ambiguous, happyish ended but I thought it was quite effective.

Edited by marinw
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8 hours ago, ElectricBoogaloo said:

Has anyone read or watched Alias Grace (also by Margaret Atwood, also on Netflix)? It's not dystopian since it's based on a real crime, but there are a lot of feminist themes on the show about women's roles, how they're treated by men, etc. I just finished watching the tv show and it was very well acted (particularly by the actress who played the main character), beautifully shot, and really held my interest about what happened.

I've heard it is quite good, but I want to read the book first!

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18 hours ago, OtterMommy said:

I've heard it is quite good, but I want to read the book first!

I'm the opposite. I've found that if I read the book first, the movie/tv show usually disappoints me because I know everything that they left out or changed. But if I watch first and then read the book, I usually like the show/movie and then enjoy the book even more because it expands on what they were able to fit into the time constraints of the show/movie. I have a pile of unread books but I'm hoping to read Alias Grace before the end of the year so that I can see how close the show was to the book.

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I'm currently reading The Power by Naomi Alderman which is speculative fiction. The premise of the book is that teenage girls begin displaying a heretofore unknown power (hence the title of the book), the ability to conduct electricity through their hands - strong enough to hurt someone. They can pass this ability on to older women. Predictably, the menfolk start freaking out. I'm almost halfway through the book and it definitely has some of the same themes as The Handmaid's Tale.

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On 4/25/2018 at 6:10 AM, ElectricBoogaloo said:

I'm currently reading The Power by Naomi Alderman which is speculative fiction. The premise of the book is that teenage girls begin displaying a heretofore unknown power (hence the title of the book), the ability to conduct electricity through their hands - strong enough to hurt someone. They can pass this ability on to older women. Predictably, the menfolk start freaking out. I'm almost halfway through the book and it definitely has some of the same themes as The Handmaid's Tale.

Thanks for this recommendation--I have this sitting on my TBR shelf (thanks to BotM!) and am just trying to read through my books to review to get to it.  Another book I have that looks very The Handmaid's Tale-esque (and also came from BotM) is Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich.  Has anyone read this?  She's one of my favorite authors, but this sounds to be very different from her other books.

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The late great Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark, Lilith’s Brood, Parable of the Sower and its sequel, Parable of the Talents. 

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Not a dystopian novel, but I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in the last two episodes and Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. She lived for seven years in a tiny crawl space to escape the sexual abuse of the man who enslaved her and her children. She could only watch her kids from a little peephole. Even after she escaped (to Boston), she was hunted by her rapist until he died. Sadly, her story wasn’t fiction.

Edited by charmed1

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Red Clocks just downloaded to my kindle, from the library. I've been letting things go, because I haven't been able to focus much, so I'd forgotten that I was waiting for it. 

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Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman, there are a few books in the series and a few novellas. Its a young adult book about star crossed lovers from different races but really is just a great book regardless. It explores 21st century Britain if Africa had conquered Europe. I read it as it was on a list of the 100 best books by the BBC voted by the public a few years ago and I read all the ones I hadn't before. I had never heard of noughts and crosses before I read it but its one of those books I often think about still like over 10 years from when I read it.

 

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The book Noughts and Crosses is a dystopian fiction based in a 21st century parallel universe. Their world, technologically at least, is similar to the one we live in today: about the same jobs, same type of government etc. But there is one key difference: the state of equality between races is somewhat lacking and there aren’t many laws or constitutions to protect from discrimination. There are two races in the book: the crosses (darker skinned people who we in our current universe would call ‘black’) the superior race with the individuals owning lots of money, good jobs different and better schools etc. Whilst the second race: the noughts are at the poorer end of society usually doing manual labour or being servant to Crosses, with poor schools - if any at all- they are not slaves it is important that that’s clear in the book the races are still segregated in anyway the Crosses find possible.


The other dystopia that really stuck with me was "Never let me go" by Nobel Prize Winner Kazuo Ishiguro (they've made it into a film too but the book was much better). I don't really want to give away too much about it so this is the best summary I could find that doesn't tell you the plot twist

 

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As a child, Kathy – now thirty-one years old – lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed–even comforted–by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham’s nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood–and about their lives now.

A tale of deceptive simplicity, Never Let Me Go slowly reveals an extraordinary emotional depth and resonance–and takes its place among Kazuo Ishiguro’s finest work.

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1 hour ago, maggiegil said:

The other dystopia that really stuck with me was "Never let me go" by Nobel Prize Winner Kazuo Ishiguro (they've made it into a film too but the book was much better). I don't really want to give away too much about it so this is the best summary I could find that doesn't tell you the plot twist

I'm a huge fan of Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains Of The Day is my favorite novel of all time and makes me weep every time I read it (it's neither feminist nor sci-fi though so not for this thread), but Never Let Me go just didn't have the same emotional impact for me, despite the subject matter. However, it is beautifully written, like all of Ishiguro's work, and certainly worth checking out.

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I wouldn't mind watching the 1990 movie with Natasha Richardson, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway but nobody is streaming and it's not worth $10 to download.  Blu Ray is over $20!

I haven't seen the series but I would guess the Amazon's The Man in the High Castle would be another depiction of an alternate-reality America.

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15 hours ago, scrb said:

I haven't seen the series but I would guess the Amazon's The Man in the High Castle would be another depiction of an alternate-reality America.

Yup.  Its about America if the Axis powers won WW2 and divided up the US.

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