Margaret Atwood’s latest dystopian vision: Humans’ only purpose is to make musical theater

Dance, humans, dance!
Dance, humans, dance!
Image: AP Photo/Wong Maye-E
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In a new short story from beloved fiction writer Margaret Atwood, aliens arrive on Earth and discuss this strange species called “human” with a friendly Canadian mushroom.

The Martians Claim Canada” is published in this month’s issue of Granta, which is dedicated to stories from the Great White North. In the story, New York-bound Martians wind up in Canada, desperately seeking the “musical theater” art form they’ve heard so much about. After stumbling on some sporocarp fungus, they talk to it about the nature of culture, borders, and humans.

The extremely silly story from the author of dystopian classic The Handmaid’s Tale is a breezy commentary on the absurdity of human insistence on flag-planting and border-drawing. It’s also a shout-out to song and dance.

During the exchange:

‘But what is a country?’ says the third Martian.

‘Ah,’ says the mushroom. ‘You’ve heard of people?’

‘Yeah, sure, of course,’ says the first Martian. ‘Two legs, only two arms, strange-looking heads, only two eyes. You need them for putting on musicals.’

And later:

‘I see what you mean about flags,’ say the Martians. ‘We should indeed concoct one for ourselves. But did they do musicals, these flag-waving people?’

‘Thing about people,’ says the mushroom, ‘first they have wars. Then, after a while, they turn the wars into musicals. It’s just how they are.’