Life af­ter the plague


The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - James Bradley

By Mar­garet At­wood Blooms­bury, 416pp, $35 (HB)

IN 2003, three years af­ter win­ning the Booker Prize for The Blind As­sas­sin, Mar­garet At­wood pub­lished Oryx and Crake, an overtly science fic­tional cau­tion­ary tale about sci­en­tific hubris, en­vi­ron­men­tal de­spo­li­a­tion and un­fet­tered cap­i­tal­ism set in the af­ter­math of a ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered pan­demic.

In 2009 Oryx and Crake was fol­lowed by The Year of the Flood, a sec­ond book set in the same world fea­tur­ing bioter­ror­ists, psy­cho­pathic sur­vivors of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem’s ver­sion of re­al­ity tele­vi­sion and a de­light­fully nutty re­li­gious cult, God’s Gar­den­ers, founded in the works of Dar­win and EO Wil­son.

Now, four years af­ter The Year of the Flood and a decade af­ter Oryx and Crake, comes MaddAddam, a third and fi­nal vol­ume in the se­ries, a book that seeks not just to chart the fate of the char­ac­ters in the first two nov­els, but to close the nar­ra­tive cir­cle of the en­tire tril­ogy by un­rav­el­ling the con­nec­tions be­tween the cen­tral play­ers in the first two parts.

Like Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam be­gins in the af­ter­math of the pan­demic en­gi­neered by Crake in the fi­nal pages of the first book. Yet where Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood are prob­a­bly bet­ter un­der­stood as com­pan­ion vol­umes ex­plor­ing the same events from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, MaddAddam is a se­quel in the tra­di­tional sense, its ac­tion pick­ing up in the im­me­di­ate wake of the events at the end of The Year of the Flood.

As the novel opens the sur­vivors of the first two books have re­treated to the com­pound in­hab­ited by the re­main­ing Gar­den­ers and a hand­ful of Mad­dAd­damites, a group of bioter­ror­ists and sci­en­tists headed by the charis­matic Zeb. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing them are the Crak­ers, a band of blue-skinned ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered post-hu­mans.

Cre­ated by Crake as part of his plan to re­make the Earth, the Crak­ers are a sort of prelap­sar­ian fan­tasy of a hu­man­ity with­out sin, their minds and bod­ies pro­grammed to make them non­vi­o­lent, im­mune to sex­ual jeal­ousy, veg­e­tar­ian (and, in a pleas­ant twist, ca­pa­ble of ex­cret­ing a nat­u­ral in­sect re­pel­lent, thereby negat­ing the need for cloth­ing).

Holed up in the com­pound, the group be­gins to build a life to­gether, plant­ing crops and at­tempt­ing to ed­u­cate the Crak­ers (many of this ex­tremely funny book’s fun­ni­est mo­ments are to be found in the dead­pan onesided tran­scrip­tions of con­ver­sa­tions with the ever-cu­ri­ous and in­cred­i­bly lit­eral-minded Crak­ers). Yet even as they do they are threat­ened both by the in­creas­ing bold­ness of the ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered pi­goons and, more wor­ry­ingly, by the con­tin­u­ing threat from other, less peace­ful hu­man sur­vivors.

At­wood has a lot of fun with the bick­er­ing sur­vivors, deftly dis­sect­ing their petty dis­agree­ments and pon­der­ous van­i­ties. In a way this shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing: At­wood has al­ways pos­sessed a keen eye for the ab­sur­di­ties of hu­man na­ture, and a par­tic­u­larly wicked un­der­stand­ing of the way small groups in­ter­act, in par­tic­u­lar those of an ide­o­log­i­cal bent. But in MaddAddam there’s an en­ergy and fe­roc­ity that lends her wit a force that is of­ten sur­pris­ing and al­ways ex­cit­ing.

Given the dis­tinctly Swif­tian edge to the MaddAddam tril­ogy as a whole it’s prob­a­bly not sur­pris­ing this third and fi­nal book fre­quently ex­hibits some­thing of the var­i­ous-


Ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered pi­goons are one of the threats in the


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