In MADDADDAM, Margaret Atwood returns to the terrifying vision of the future she first imagined in ORYX AND CRAKE and further explored in THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD, concluding this spectacular trilogy. In it, she examines the fragility of nature, the dangers of power, the risks of science, and the meaning and limits of humanity.
It has been a few months since the pandemic called the Waterless Flood devastated most of life on earth. A few people have survived, along with a variety of genetically modified animals and a strange new human species called the Crakers. ORYX AND CRAKE told the story of the scientific genius Crake, his muse Oryx, and their plans to create a new race of people who lack destructive impulses. THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD told the story of Adam One, a religious leader who tried to bring his followers comfort and hope during the pandemic that Crake unleashed on the world, and of Toby and Ren, two women who were victims of the brutality and malfeasance that characterized society’s breakdown.
"MADDADDAM concludes one of the most compelling and unique visions of the future (and the present, really) in recent literature."
MADDADDAM brings those stories together in the aftermath of the violence of the Waterless Flood and the corruption-filled decades that led up to it by centering on Toby and a few other characters from the first two books. Toby, having survived the pandemic holed up in the AnooYoo Spa, has joined survivors from both the Gardeners, the nature-focused religious group founded by Adam One, and the MaddAddamites, bio and tech geniuses who formed an underground resistance against the nefarious CorpSeCorps. The Crakers, bio-engineered humans with a simplistic worldview but lusty sexual appetites, are also on-hand, having followed Jimmy, a friend of Crake’s from the Paradice Dome where they were created and Crake perished. But they are all far from safe as raping and murdering Painballers are circling their barely protected compound, and Pigoons, pigs bred for human organ and tissue replacement, are menacing them as well.
Of course, it all sounds confusing if you haven’t read the first two books, so losing yourself in Atwood’s nightmarish and intelligent world from start to finish is recommended. MADDADDAM exhibits the clever word play and mistrust of science and technology for profit and power that Atwood began presenting in the other installments of the trilogy, as well as another one of the author’s characteristic subjects: the treatment of women. Toby is a strong and sympathetic character, and through her and her lover, Zeb, Atwood is able to fill in a lot of the holes in the story the other books didn’t address. Here we find out the backstory of Adam One and his relationship to Zeb, along with Zeb’s own tale and what has happened to the Children of Crake since they left the Paradice Dome. We also catch up with Ren and Amanda, who were important figures in THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD.
Most interesting in this book, however, is not the characters dealing with the new world in which they find themselves (though that is really great, too), but the development of the Craker character named Bluebeard, who comes to stand for all Crakers as they come out of the Eden of their creation into a harsh and unpredictable climate. Also especially interesting is the theme of storytelling. MADDADDAM is mostly Toby’s story, but she tells Zeb’s as well (to the Children of Crake, who in turn make storytelling part of their own culture), and in the end, she, with the help of Bluebeard, has left a story as a legacy and as a guide for the survivors of the Waterless Flood. Myth and mythmaking are important to any culture, and Atwood uses that idea to say something about survival and regeneration being more than purely physical processes.
MADDADDAM concludes one of the most compelling and unique visions of the future (and the present, really) in recent literature. It is about extinction and dissolution, as well as reparation and restructuring. It is a novel not without hope but is a hope tinged with uncertainty and anxiety. Sometimes far-fetched and other times bleakly realistic, Atwood’s latest is a fascinating and entertaining conclusion to her chilling series.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on November 29, 2013