I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.
Atwood writes very believable dystopian worlds—this one is set after a global economic meltdown where things are getting pretty desperate for regular people, those who are currently being politically courted & labelled as “middle class.” Stan & Charmaine are living in their car, struggling to survive. Stan hasn’t yet knuckled under & joined his criminal brother’s enterprise and Charmaine is still waitressing and resisting the idea of turning tricks on the side for extra income. As a last resort, they end up in the Positron community—a prison town with a twist. Each month, the prisoners and the townspeople trade places.
It is also a cautionary tale: be careful what you wish for, for you might get it. You can have security and comfort, but is it worth giving up your freedom? You can have a robot sex slave, but is that really what any of us want? You can have another human “adjusted” to make him/her desire you, but does the thrill last when you know that your partner has no choice in the matter? Does sex actually directly equate to love anyway?
I would be interested to hear from men if the sexuality of the men in the story is portrayed accurately. To me, it seems that Atwood nails it, but I’m female and I’m just judging by the men in my own life and those thoughts that they are willing to share with me.
Atwood’s strength, it seems to me, is taking events in the current news and spinning a future world where the implications of these stories is fully realized.