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.

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