My video link may require some explanation, as MC Hammer and Margaret Atwood aren't an obvious pairing. While "can't touch this" could be a slogan for the Republic of Gilead, and "life comes at you fast" is relevant to the 2017 Hulu Handmaid's Tale, I chose this video primarily for the way it highlights movement of material across time. In 1990, 5 years after the publication of Atwood's novel, MC Hammer released what would become his signature tune, "U Can't Touch This"; part of its appeal came from its prominent sampling of Rick James' 1981 hit, "Super Freak." Then, in 2005, Hammer, his song, and his real-life financial disasters became the basis for an insurance company commercial. Such a swirl of creativity and "real life," re-imagined and re-purposed across time, represents the kind of work Atwood does that makes me claim HT as a historical novel.
When she "jumped the tracks . . . from realistic novels to dystopias" ("Dire Cartographies: The Roads to Ustopia," 2011), Atwood brought her tools with her. Placing her novel based on a 19th-century Canadian true-crime case, Alias Grace (1996), alongside HT suggests the continuity between Atwood's historical and dystopian fiction. That the past's Grace Marks and the future's Offred are brought to life using some of the same motifs and techniques does not signal limited authorial vision. To the contrary, these parallels reflect Atwood's profound understanding of time and period. The literary devices in these works are the kind of thing that often makes film adaptations unsatisfactory to those who have read the book, but they also offer cinematographic potential.
In "Dire Cartographies," Atwood explains that in writing HT she decided nothing would go into it that "humankind had not already done, somewhere, sometime, or for which it did not already have the tools." Her decision, thus described, emphasizes the inherent connections among historical record, contemporary actual, and future potential. As in her merging of the genres of dystopia and utopia into something she calls "ustopia," Atwood follows a similar process regarding time; it's as if all of Scrooge's ghosts visit simultaneously. As she noted in a 1996 lecture, "the past belongs to us, because we are the ones who need it." From the particular warnings and observations brought to life in the Hulu HT, we can adduce a universal imperative: pay attention!