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What's The Next Big Dystopian Novel? Margaret Atwood Has Some Ideas

<em></em>Margaret Atwood says the next big dystopian novel ought to be a newspaper serial.
Jean Malek
Margaret Atwood says the next big dystopian novel ought to be a newspaper serial.

I was lucky enough to have a conversation with Margaret Atwood today, about the sudden popularity of her dystopian classic The Handmaid's Tale. You can hear that story here. But there was one thing that didn't make it into the finished piece — a moment when I asked Atwood what she thought the next big trend would be in dystopian reading. People have been devouring The Handmaid's Tale, 1984, Brave New World, It Can't Happen Here and The Plot Against America — so what's the next book we'll be reporting on?

Well, it won't be a book, according to Atwood. "The question to be asked is, if somebody does write such a novel where will it be published?" she says. "I think we might go back to newspaper serials ... Because events are evolving so fast it would almost take a serial form to keep up with them."

One installment a week, Atwood says, and "I would make my narrator somebody from within one of the alt-Twitter handles that are popping up all over — as alternative Department of Justice, alternative Parks Department, alternative Education." Someone inside the government, who's risking their job to leak information to the public.

Dear readers, you know I asked Margaret Atwood if she'd be willing to write this for me here at NPR. But she says she's not the right one for the job. "Number one, I'm too old," she says. "But number two, it would have to be somebody there, who's pretty close to events as they unfold. Almost like Samuel Pepys' diary," she says, referencing the famous English chronicler. "'Dear diary, you would never believe what happened today! Dear diary, are they on to me? My milkshake tasted funny.'"

Atwood says a story like that would boost newspaper sales, "employ fiction writers and follow the situation while it's unfolding — while you're still allowed to read!"

So, speculative fiction writers, get on it! (Though personally, now I'm always going to wonder if it's really Margaret Atwood tweeting as @AltUSNatParkService.)

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Petra Mayer died on November 13, 2021. She has been remembered by friends and colleagues, including all of us at NPR. The Petra Mayer Memorial Fund for Internships has been created in her honor.

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