Not With a Bang

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood.

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The world of the near future, already environmentally devastated, is further destroyed by an intentionally released super virus that kills most of the population. Among the survivors are members of the greenly religious God’s Gardeners, whose doctrine prepared them for what they called the Waterless Flood that they long believed would wipe out humanity. Also alive—and thriving—is a group known as the Crakers, genetically spliced humans that sport all manner of biological modifications (ranging from built-in insect repellant to strictly vegetarian dietary requirements), making them surprisingly adapt—more so than Homo sapiens sapiens, at any rate—to survive in the ruins of this decimated world.

Thus begins MaddAddam, the third book in Margaret Atwood’s poignant dystopian trilogy. While the first book, Oryx and Crake, was centred on science and the wealthy elite living in corporate arcologies—elite living in their walled communities—and The Year of the Flood dealt with religion and the plebs living in chaotic slums, MaddAddam works as a continuation of both stories, and includes characters from both previous books. One character thrown into focus in this novel is Zeb, whose background as a hacker on the run provides a more expansive glimpse of Atwood’s pre-plague world, filling in the details of life in a corrupt techno- and corporate-centric society. (As with the previous two books, the flashbacks to life before the plague are more interesting than the now of the post-apocalyptic landscape.)

It’s arguably the least exciting plot-wise of the three, but that’s perhaps to be expected; by now we know most of the whys and wherefores of what happened. And if the sometimes petty clashes between the human survivors seems an odd focus, it highlights by contrast the difference between them and the Crakers, who are humanity’s natural replacements. Still, the world—so brilliantly realized and thoroughly detailed—is what makes these books worth reading. And as Atwood writes in the ending acknowledgements, “Although MaddAddam is a work of fiction, it does not include any technologies or biobeings that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory.” As much as this is the climax of a trilogy, it’s also a frighteningly plausible coda for civilization.


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November 18, 2013