Monday, July 27, 2015

Agenda 21: Compare and Contrast

Agenda 21, pp. 43-45

We end Chapter Five with a fertility test:

"How are we getting along?" he says, some tic of speech from the other time. The sheet is lifted from my skin, a draft pimples me. A cold finger, rubber-clad and jellied, slides into me, I am poked and prodded. The finger retreats, enters otherwise, withdraws.

Oh, I'm sorry, that was from The Handmaid's Tale. Here's the entirely different scene in Agenda 21:

The reproductive specialist examined me all over with his hands. They were cold and smooth. I didn't like the way he looked at me. His pupils were big, and he stared at me while he touched my body and tried to put his fingers inside me.

Agenda 21 often has this cheap middle-grade feel, like it's written by someone talking down to a teenager. I haven't mentioned that up until now, but most of the novel is written in these stumpy, simplistic proclamations. In a better book, I'd assume that this was a stylistic choice meant to illustrate the protagonist's immaturity. That's still a possibility here, but I can't shake the feeling that the manuscript really was this poorly written and the editor went easy on it because Glenn Beck's name was attached.

This is a sequence that has a real fanfictiony feel to it, and not just because it so brazenly steals from The Handmaid's Tale. Fanfiction tends to fail as literature because so many of the writers don't understand why they like these properties, so they copy superficial details and never get into the guts of the thing. Harriet Parke clearly understood that the matching scene in The Handmaid's Tale was meant to be chilling, but didn't quite get why. There, it was presented as one of Offred's last chances to demonstrate her worth before she was simply discarded by society; Here, it's just a somewhat unpleasant checkup.

I think this scene is meant to seem really cold, but frankly I've been through worse than this. After all, I used to live in the People's Republic of China.

This is not the health center, but it's telling in its own way.

Working in the PRC meant regular trips to a foreigner's health center to keep my visa valid. When you enter the center, you're handed a card with a list of procedures and then escorted from room to room. Each room contains one technician who performs the procedure and stamps the card in the appropriate place. They never speak; most of the time they don't look up. It feels like you're a toy robot going through QA, just another widget on an assembly line.

So that's my advice to writers: If you want to take something mundane and make it seem really detatched and inhuman, find out how they do it in China. There's your starting point.

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