Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What We're Reading: The MaddAddam Trilogy

Margaret Atwood’s chilling post-apocalyptic trilogy includes Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, which run parallel to each other, and its combined conclusion, MaddAddam. In this story – soon to be adapted into an HBO series by cult favorite director Darren Aronofsky – a young genius takes matters into his own hands to rid the world of unchecked corporate greed and extinct animal life by wiping out humanity and populating it with genetically engineered humans.

It all begins in Oryx and Crake with Snowman, the seemingly lone survivor of the “Waterless Flood,” who keeps watch over the genetically engineered colorful “people” who are leading a serene animal-like existence by the seashore, able to live solely on leaves. They seem only to need Snowman to tell them stories of Crake, who created them, and Oryx, who taught them everything they know, both of whom Snowman tells them now live in the sky and keep watch over them. Through flashbacks, Snowman recounts his childhood in the Compounds, upper-class residences owned by corporations like HelthWyzer and CorpSeCorps, where the brightest minds did everything from creating new animal species to manufacturing every kind of medicine and food substitute imaginable. This was when Snowman was known as Jimmy, the son of two HelthWyzer brains. Though not possessing of a brilliant scientific mind himself, Jimmy forms a close friendship with Glenn, one of the smartest kids in the compound, who grows up to pursue a scientific career – one which leads to the near-extinction of the human race. When Jimmy realizes that he unknowingly aided Glenn in his plans, it is already too late, but he had promised Glenn to watch over his new creations – the race engineered by Glenn to be the new inhabitants of Earth.

The Year of the Flood is in the same timeframe as Oryx and Crake, but told from the perspective of characters from the Pleebs, the underprivileged rest of the pre-apocalyptic world. Here, a religious group calling themselves God’s Gardeners are led by the enigmatic Adam One, who warns them frequently of a disaster that will wipe out humanity – a Waterless Flood.

In MaddAddam, the survivors from both books converge to deal with what's left behind – a world whose meager remaining population includes not only them but also vicious ex-convicts from the country's most ruthless prison system.

Masterfully written, slyly humorous, bizarre, and chilling are some ways to describe this trilogy. Atwood pulls no punches in these books, creating a story that is gripping and dark. What makes these books so disturbing is not the violence – of which there is plenty – but the fact that many of the themes will feel quite familiar to the reader. A world where most animals are extinct yet pigs are used for growing human organs, where corporations can make both the diseases and their cures, where corporations have grown so powerful they have legitimate control of the government, may seem a little too extreme, yet the degree of detail Atwood put into creating the dystopian setting makes it quite believable, and very much based on the world of today. Although there have been quite a few great dystopian novels published in the last couple of years, Margaret Atwood remains one of the best writers of the genre with her ability to masterfully craft a post-apocalyptic world.

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