Sunday, May 18, 2014


Oh, Margaret Atwood. How I used to love you.

What burgeoning feminist teen wouldn't love "A Handmaid's Tale"? Especially with the science fiction-y vibe.

Oh, excuse me. I mean speculative fiction-y vibe. Because, as Atwood reminds us subtly in her acknowledgements, she doesn't write science fiction. What she writes could really happen. Really.

Okay, that's probably enough snark.

"MaddAddam" is the third and final book in the MaddAddam trilogy. I read them out of order, starting with "The Year of the Flood," which I enjoyed, and then moved on to "Oryx and Crake," which I finished.

"The Year of the Flood" is primarily a survival story about two women who, through luck and their wits survive a global pandemic. The two women were both for a time part of an organization called God's Gardeners, where they knew each other and learned some skills that helped them keep themselves alive. The story was compelling for me largely because the women, Toby and Ren, were sympathetic, compelling characters. Toby is especially compelling as she survives some pretty terrible circumstances; Ren perhaps a bit less so, though largely because she's young and lackadaisical enough to just be less interesting. The world Atwood imagines is an interesting one, if dystopian in ways I simply find unbelievable, particularly regarding painball (convicted killers fighting one another to the death and then being released if they win).

"Oryx and Crake" wasn't as enjoyable because most of the story is about Jimmy, who I found whiny and unsympathetic. Part of the problem is that the protagonists in the story are Oryx (a former child prostitute) and Crake/Glenn (super genius), Jimmy's friends. I find reading a story from the perspective of a character other than the protagonist is often less satisfying, most especially if the non-protagonist main character is slimy and whiny. You can kinda get away with it if we're watching a likeable character, or if the story is short, but this is a novel and Crake is just about as slimy and ultimately far less sympathetic then even Jimmy.


I didn't dislike "MaddAddam" as much as I disliked "Oryx and Crake" but it wasn't a book I enjoyed much. Atwood is a literary writer and so she does some literary things that I found tiresome, like telling parts of the story as a story being told to the Crakers (the noble savages Crake/Glenn engineers before destroying the rest of humanity). The Crakers come off as imbecilic with the constant interruption, the dumbing down of events to something my two year old would find overly basic, and their perpetual misunderstanding of 'adult' concepts is a little too much for me. The one 'joke' in the book is a misunderstanding of the term, 'fuck,' which the Crakers interpret basically as a prayer to a demi-god/helper of Oryx named 'fuck.' The joke isn't funny when it's first told and it doesn't become funny through repetition.

I'm also not a huge fan of the literary conceit of giving every character a terrible childhood. Yes, parents are all monsters in some way. I'm a mom and sometimes I'm aware I'm being a monster, even when I try my best not to be. But I'm not that bad. This time around we get to hear about Zed and Adam's childhoods, which involved horribly degrading abuse and murder. Yes, I know, it's a novel, but seriously, is it feasible for that high a percentage of your population to have such terrible backgrounds?

I also can't turn off my science brain enough to suspend disbelief about the world Atwood creates. Despite Atwood's claims about the realism of her science, I found her science severely lacking. Sure, there are transgenic organisms out there, but assuming putting human frontal cortical tissue into the brain of a pig is going to make it super smart, and assuming the genetically engineered noble savages will be able to communicate with the super smart pigs is a bit of a stretch beyond 'speculative fiction.' If she just asked me to sit back and enjoy a piece of science fiction that we all know is only partially feasible, sure, I could do that. I'm not capable of letting her claim pigoons and Crakers and diseases that turn victims into frothy jell-o in a matter of minutes are truly speculative, as in within the realm of truly possible.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Campelltown Writers' group

Locally, I'm part of a writing group. I've only been going since last September, and I've missed several meetings thanks to children or morning sickness. Overall, it's been a good experience. I enjoy meeting with other writers and hearing what they have to say. Some of them are quite good, others not so much; all of the ones who are coming consistently are great to have in the group.

It's a nice change from last year.

The first few meetings I went to last year were pretty hit and miss. The format's been pretty consistent the whole time (chit chat, then a quick free write, then sharing our pieces based on the theme decided upon at the last meeting) but at the end of last year the group felt like it was seriously imploding. We had a less than stellar workshop one month, then a bitchfest the next month in response, at which point people kinda quit coming.

Somebody reached out to the Campelltown council (who is paying for the Writers' Group) for help, and in response they sent a woman to lead the group and keep it going. She's been coming for about the last six months.

Tonight was her last meeting. I won't say her presence was horrible, but I will say I'm glad to see her go. There were good things about having her there. She was good at providing structure to the meetings and I think for the group to have a hope of surviving we needed someone to just be a solid, consistent presence for a few months.

Unfortunately, she just wasn't into the whole writers' group thing. At least not with us. She was not so good at hiding her disinterest in us as writers and in our writing, or her impatience to end every meeting as quickly as possible. I was thoroughly annoyed at her nearly monthly 20 minute diatribe reminding us how much she hated being there.

This month, as her parting gift, she kicked it up a notch by inviting in a speaker to tell us how to run a self-sufficient writing group. Kind of a kick in the pants, show us out the door kinda last meeting with her, with someone else taking up our entire meeting time with the message she loathed being there. Fun, fun.

So, next month'll be just us. We'll either sink or swim as a group and I am totally happy with that. I hope we swim, but even if we sink, at least it won't be because some annoying outside person kept wasting our precious writing and discussion time.