Margaret Atwood, Bloomsbury Publishing (2013), RRP $35.00
MaddAddam completes Atwood’s apocalyptic trilogy begun with Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009).
A sequel to both concurrent storylines, MaddAddam begins by putting us in the picture: humanity has been decimated by a designer disease kicked off by BlyssPlus, a wonder drug promising “sexual ecstasy, birth control and prolonged youth”, but instead delivering the apocalypse with a virus known as the “waterless flood”.
In the ruins of society’s post-capitalist excess, bedsheet-wearing survivors comprising former God’s Gardener cultists, Maddaddamite biogeeks, prophet Snowman-the-Jimmy and a tribe of gentle, genetically engineered Crakers, shelter in a clay and straw hut, licking their wounds as Painballers, former prisoners turned gladiators, roam the land.
Zeb recounts his life on the run to Year Of The Flood co-protagonist and lover Toby, peppered with the exploits of his cult-leading brother Adam. He tells of the different paths they took after escaping their abusive reverend father. Adam founded the a pacifist cult, while Zeb’s adventures took him through the Pleebland shadowlands to the Mackenzie Mountain barrens, where he wound up wearing a bearskin and being mistaken for Bigfoot.
Toby translates their escapades into mythic oral histories for the Crakers; beautiful improved humanoid vegetarians with insect-proof skin, predator-repelling urine and genitals that turn blue when in heat. They were intended as humanity’s replacements by Crake, the mad scientist who killed the world. Toby’s tales of life as it once was tie threads together, weaving fresh legends.
In this blighted landscape, unlikely alliances are formed. In teaching green-eyed Craker child Bluebeard to read, Toby unwittingly paves the way for a future that may not have much use for its old world humans.
Atwood considers science fiction and speculative fiction as distinct: the former describing events never likely to take place: the latter, in a lineage traced directly to Jules Verne, extrapolating on realistic possibilities. In her own words, “Although MaddAddam is a work of fiction, it does not include any technologies or bio-beings that do not already exist, are not under construction or are not possible in theory.”