Atwood has said she prefers the term “speculative fiction” instead of science fiction to describe her future-set novels, in which she takes current events and teases them out to an extreme that makes you want to run for your life. Materialism has never been so nauseating as in “The Year of the Flood.” If the recession hasn’t already made you renounce shopping in favor of home-grown tomatoes and DIY composters, Atwood will.
(For folks who just like to read rather than debate genres, science fiction is speculative fiction, but speculative fiction isn’t necessarily science fiction. “Star Trek” = science fiction. “1984” = speculative fiction. The distinction isn’t determined by a lack of spaceships or cool collectibles. Nor is it just a case of adding major literary clout. Instead, speculative fiction is any case of the “what ifs” unfurling outside known facts about either history or reality. Androids or giant bugs are welcome, but not essential. Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America,” which asked “What if Charles Lindbergh were elected president?” would be an example of historical speculative fiction. Is that clear? Good. I now return you to your regularly scheduled plot summary.)