MaddAddam is the third book of the trilogy which began in 2003 with Oryx and Crake and continued with The Year of the Flood . Judging by the thanks offered by Atwood in her ‘Acknowledgements’, without the encouragement of her readers, “including those on Facebook and Twitter”, it might never have been written. But it does not matter if you have not read either of the first two books, this one can stand alone. In fact, I found the outline of the earlier books, which prefaces MaddAddam, totally confusing in spite of having read them, and I resorted to making a sort of flow-chart of the characters who had already appeared. It was unnecessary.
“There’s a story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told”, says Toby, who is the writer-protagonist of this book. And this is the way the book unfolds, with the back-story of several of the characters and events from the earlier books being told, as well as a more detailed account of Toby’s own story. She is one of the few survivors of the ecological/biological disaster which has destroyed most of humankind, and her ongoing diary begins with the final events of The Year of Flood. Amongst the survivors are the murderous Painballers, the injured Jimmy, The Snowman, and a small group of Crakers, bio-engineered, gene-spliced, human-like beings who are “free of sexual jealousy, greed, clothing and the need for insect repellant”. The Craker males are also sexually voracious and this becomes the cause of distress and curiosity amongst the few human women, but with potentially hopeful results for the whole group.
In 2003, Oryx and Crake described seemingly outlandish inventions, corporations and social changes, and Atwood had fun inventing appropriate names: such as ‘Pigoons’ for “gen-mod” pigs with human characteristics; the powerful ‘CorpSeCorps’ technocrats; and ‘BlissPluss’ pill for sexual energy and prolonged youth. Now, bioengineering is well established, gated communities and powerful technocrats are common, and ecstasy and other ‘life-style drugs’ have taken on the agenda of BlissPluss. In fact, as Atwood remarks in the ‘Afterword’ to MaddAddam, although the book is fiction, she has not included “technologies or bio-beings that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory”.
In fact, MaddAddam is less science fiction than the earlier books and more a gripping adventure thriller and love story. The chapter headings suggest the story-telling nature of the book: ‘The Story of How Crake was Born’, Snowman’s Progress’. ‘Moontime’, for example. ‘The story of Zeb and Fuck’ is particularly funny, as Toby tries to support the Crakers’ assumption that the exclamation “Oh Fuck!” calls on a God of Misfortune for help.
Atwood’s dark humour, her concern for our survival in a changing world, her intelligence, and her clear-eyed, wry, dry observation of human nature are always apparent. Some may find the Crakers too simple and too fanciful an invention but, for me, her loving depiction of them and of Toby’s humorous and gentle interactions with them as she tells her stories, are a delight. The innocence and curiosity of a young Craker boy, Blackbeard, and his pleasure at learning from Toby that the dark marks she makes on her pages mean sounds which can also be heard by other people who see them, is tempered by Toby’s concern for the results of this learning “What comes next? Rules, dogmas, laws? The Testament of Crake?”. It comes as no surprise that these people who purr illness and hurt away, sing joyfully at the slightest provocation (so that Toby has constantly to restrain them so she can continue her story) and can communicate with the Pigoons, ultimately save Toby and her companions from death.
Forget labels like ‘science fiction’, ‘futurist fiction’, ‘dystopian fantasy’, ‘ecological disaster novel’. MaddAddam is an imaginative book full of great characters, action, horror, humour and sadness, told by a masterly story-teller.
Copyright © Ann Skea 2013
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