How much more can Mother Earth take of this human race? With her dystopian trilogy MaddAddam, Canadian author Margaret Atwood posits it might be time for some better caretakers.
In Atwood's dark satire, nature withers from genetic modification, ceaseless consumption and corporate greed. Corrupt companies placate the plebes with crappy TV, sex clubs and fast food of questionable origin (think Soylent Green). The elite work and play, and screw with DNA, in fortified compounds. Human hair is farmed on the backs of sheep, and human organs in monster pigs known as pigoons.
Each book concerns the events before and after a manmade plague — a waterless flood, as a hippie cult known as God's Gardeners calls it — sweeps most of humankind from the Earth.
The human race reboot is fully underway in the final book, also titled MaddAddam. The book brilliantly wraps up Atwood's apocalyptic vision and leaves the reader feeling hopeful for a better world.
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A young genius named Crake unleashes a bioweapon to clear the way for his new breed of perfect, genetically modified humans. The "Crakers" eat kudzu. They don't need housing, clothing or meat, and they don't behave in any way that Crake believed harmed other life forms or the planet. Jealousy, shame, guilt and guile are not in the DNA.
When Crake offs himself, his hapless buddy Jimmy, one of a few survivors from the old human race, must lead the Children of Crake out of the lab.
The MaddAddam books are concurrent but by no means repetitive. Readers can enter the trilogy in Book 3 and read the books in backward order, like the palindrome of its name. (Reading them in order, however, is still recommended.)
At the end of Book 1, Oryx and Crake (2003), Jimmy and the Crakers encounter plague survivors on the beach. Jimmy wonders, should he join them or finish his friend's work and kill them? The Year of the Flood (2009), retells the flood with different voices, and introduces God's Gardeners, led by the prophet Adam One. Book 2 ends with the same scene on the beach, but now we know the players.
Book 3 tells the story of the group that broke off from God's Gardeners to wage a guerrilla war of bioterror against the corporations, ultimately helping Crake deliver his apocalypse.
And it tells the last great love story of the human race, between a rogue hacker named Zeb, who helped Crake bring about end times; and our heroine, Toby, who helps the Children of Crake, insatiably curious about their origin, piece together a belief system by relating the stories of Crake, Jimmy and Zeb.
By Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese. 416 pp. $27.95.