A Loose Science Fiction
Told with wit, dizzying imagination and dark humour, Booker Prize-winning Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam takes one into a challenging dystopian world–a conclusion to the internationally acclaimed triology that began with Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. As the story unfolds, one sees a man-made pandemic has swept the earth, but for a small group of survivors, along with the green-eyed Crakers–a gentle species bio-engineered to replace humans. Toby, one time member of the God’s Gardener and expert in mushrooms and bees, is in love with street-smart Zeb. The Craker’s reluctant prophet, Snowman–the Jimmy, is hallucinating and Amanda is in shock from a Painballer assault. Ivory Bill yearns for the provocative Swift Fox, who flirts with Zeb. Meanwhile there is constant threat of attack by the giant Pigoons and malevolent Painballers.
The story takes us both forward and back: forward as the few survivors of the lethal virus that destroyed civilization fight among themselves, with gentle God’s Gardeners pitted against Painballers, and back as Zeb, a former God’s Gardener-turned-anti-Corp insurgent, tells his story in flashback to his lover, Toby. Each night, the Crakers beg Toby for a story about their origins, and we see how she mythologises the genocidal Crake, as well as Zeb and the Gardeners.
Margaret Atwood delves deeply into the art of myth creating, and the role it plays in the world. Further, we are introduced to Zeb and his brother, Adam, and their back-story. They are the sons of a bogus preacher, the leader of a thriving and fraudulent church, the Church of Petroleum, which worships oil. Their father has stashed millions in banks in the Caymans and had some very unpleasant ways with young children. Zeb managed to siphon off his father’s millions and he and Adam went on the run, hiding behind false identities. Later, he killed his father, who, it turns out, had murdered his mother. They supported Crake’s apocalyptic project because they believed humanity needed a good culling.
When Adam wasn’t leading the gentle Gardeners, he used the codename MaddAddam online to bring together a group of dangerously smart gene hackers to infiltrate biotech corporations. The problem with MaddAddam isn’t that it plays on familiar speculative-fiction staples, from genetic engineering to corp-ruled hellscapes, but in this book, they don’t convert into an insightful or effective story. Zeb’s story is smartly written, with detailed characterisation that makes Atwood’s books remarkable, but could not delve something new about the story. The foundations of this world’s story were laid in Oryx and Crake; two books later, Atwood still fails in completing the structure.
MaddAddam is a part of a genre which largely depends on exploring existing norms in new ways. The issue is not about covering familiar science fiction genre; it’s that it doesn’t provide anything new to the storyline drafted by the series’ two previous books. This unsentimental story exposes the height of human creativity as well as our self-destructive behaviour. As with other idea-driven fictions, the book is sometimes instructive and works better as mental exercise than as absorbing story.
By Nilabh Krishna
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