By Margaret Atwood
What elevates Oryx and Crake (Book One), The Year of the Flood (Book Two), and now MaddAddam (Book Three) above almost all sci-fi (or, as Atwood prefers, speculative fiction) is her inventive language and storytelling, and her ability to intermix the human proclivity for excess with a construction of a plausible future built directly on what corporations, governments, and scientists are imagining or developing presently. In the case of her biologic disaster trilogy, specifically the exploration and manipulation of genes for profit, weaponry, and, in especially malicious or morally misguided hands, the eradication of humankind as we know it.
In MaddAddam, Atwood picks up the story after the BlyssPlus epidemic has wiped out nearly, but definitely not, all of humankind. We remember that Crake in Book One, with a team of handpicked scientists, some of whom reappear in Book Three, created a new breed of hominoid attuned to nature and a sealed, protected environment for them, the Paradice dome or Egg. Secretly, he also engineered a deadly virus, hid it in BlyssPlus (similar to Brave New World‘s Soma), and, to use Craker mythology, cleansed the world for them of pesky competition. In Book Three, along with a few other surprises, we learn that’s not entirely true; there’s more to the story.
However, the world still contains humans, and of the worst sort, Painballers, trained in the pre-devastation world to kill for sport, men without souls who slaughter whatever they please, humans and animals, butchering and eating them. Confronting and eliminating these killers forms the main storyline in Book Three, along with bringing together characters from Books One and Two and showing how they establish a community and look to the future. If you’ve read the first two books, many of the characters will be familiar to you. The main group in Book Three are Zeb, Toby, Jimmy (Snowman), and a new addition, Bluebeard, a Craker child, a beacon of hope. As for the preceding books, Atwood supplies brief summaries of each as prologue to MaddAddam, so even if you haven’t read them you’ll have a sense of what transpired (but do read them, especially Oryx and Crake).
Much of MaddAddam consists of flashbacks to the time before the destruction. Atwood handles these in a most artful manner, having Toby, and later Bluebeard, relate them as a mythic belief system, a retelling in simplified words, pleasing to the Crakers. Many of the flashbacks are remembrances by Zeb. All serve to fill in and expand on the ground covered in Books One and Two, including Crake as a child, life in the Pleeblands, and the relationship of Zeb and Adam, Adam One, founder of God’s Gardeners, and the boys’ relationship with their father, founder of a debased version of Christianity, a mega church called PetrOleum, quite a nice invention on Atwood’s part playing off the idea of the rock upon which Christ builds his church (Petros, ancient Greek for rock). Taken together, the three volumes provide a complete, multi-sided view of the world in the years shortly before Crake’s manufactured extinction event.
Atwood casts a jaundiced eye on institutions. In her world, government has succumbed to powerful global super corporations, CorpSeCorps, HelthWyzer, OrganInc Farms, and the like. Packaged goods have been pushed to the extreme (SecretBurgers anyone?), animals gene spliced to meet market-created human needs (with plenty of unintended consequences, like thinking Pigoons), until there doesn’t appear to be much of a natural world. These corporations aren’t above perpetuating any nefarious act to spice their bottom lines, including manufacturing a disease and then a patented cure for it.
The current trend of wealth concentration in the hands of a few has reached its own extreme level in her world. An elite group of educated technocrats reside and work in corporate compounds (ironically, company towns of old re-imagined as posh conclaves), while the rest of the world battles it out in Pleebland. It’s a nasty world of struggle, of pornographic pursuits, of bloodletting sports, a society on the make.
There’s little solace or moral value in religion, either. How could there be in a world where a major religion is the Church of PetrOleum, the motto of which could easily be that quaint 2008 political shriek, “Drill, baby, drill!”?
But don’t fear; Atwood doesn’t preach. She simply presents a world and human society dashed to hell by an overly enthusiastic quest for the good life, the life of materialistic depravity. Highly recommended book and series. w/c