In her review of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale," Elaine Kendall displays a lack of experience with "speculative fiction," the preferred name for "science fiction." If Ms. Kendall had read "Revolt in 2100" by Robert Heinlein, she would find the United States firmly ruled by a theocracy, wherein young women are chosen to serve the "Prophet Incarnate." The fundamentalist movement that led to this theocracy is described, although the story is of a revolt against the regime.
Ms. Kendall's misconception, that "science fiction" is always based on extreme fancy, is a common one. However, writers set their stories, whether mysteries, love stories, adventure or horror tales, in the past, present, future and in alternate worlds to provide characters and plot elements for the story they want to tell. Often, ideas, such as the effect of reliable, inexpensive organ transplants on the criminal justice system, can only be explored in a speculative fiction context. Indeed, a truly non-sexist society is "science fiction."
Perhaps Ms. Kendall was only trying to keep "The Handmaid's Tale" from being regarded as "merely" science fiction, but many readers of the genre will recognize the family resemblance.
DANIEL L. TAYLOR