Friday, July 17, 2015

Agenda 21: Bad Writers Borrow

Agenda 21, pp. 26-30

About four years ago I reached reproductive age. It was scary to see blood in my underwear.

Certainly an arresting way to open Chapter Three. Normally, this is where I would question the biological veracity of a world in which everyone is described as emaciated and dangerously and underweight, and yet the women still have regular, predictable thirteen-times-a-year menstrual cycles. However, I feel that everyone had enough of that in the last few updates. I'm going to be more of a "big picture" guy for a while.

The big picture here concerns the derivative nature of Agenda 21. While this novel liberally borrows from similar works, there's one in particular that stands out: Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Harriet Parke, who actually wrote the narrative, was clearly a fan because Atwood's influence hangs heavy over most of the story, to the point where at times it starts to resemble fanfiction.

I've already brought a few points of comparison - the color-coded uniforms, the marriage rituals - between the two, things that are suggestive but still pretty general. In this chapter, we see another one. One of the inciting crises in the Republic of Gilead was a population crunch caused by mass sterility. What about the unrelated Republic of Agenda 21?

They [the Authority] were concerned about the decreasing birthrates in various Compounds as well as the way the older kids were maturing.


No specific reason is ever given for this crisis. Normally you wouldn't need one given the state of the people, but since the women are all obviously sexually healthy as suggested by their predictable cycles...

(No! Bad critic! Think big picture!)

...In fairness, Atwood never gave a definitive reason for the rampant infertility in her own story. The academia-satirizing epilogue gave a few possibilities - ranging from STIs to pollution to radiation - but that was really just something for the detail-oriented to hang their hats on. The nature of the population crisis was not centrally important, as the story was more about culture and government. This novel...I guess I can give it a pass for the same reason, although as the points of comparison become more blatant I'm going to find it harder to be generous.

The concept of stealing in literature is actually a fairly hairy one. Honestly, if you work within any defined genre you're going to struggle to make your work wholly original. In fact, a litte unoriginality can actually help in securing representation. The publishing industry has borrowed the concept of the "pitch" from Hollywood - the one-line description usually of the form "X meets Y." If you can fit your manuscript into that formula, it will actually greatly increase your chance of publication.

Maybe, in a world in which she didn't work with a famous ideologue, that could have worked for Parke. "The Handmaid's Tale meets pervasive, self-congratulatory paranoia" - that might actually sell.

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