I love apocalyptic and dystopian literature. So much so, that I took a class dedicated to the subject in college, one of my favorites with a great professor to boot. Sure, I may have graduated with a semi-useless English degree (or at least that’s what society tells me), but I did get to read some great books along the way, including the first book of the MaddAddam Trilogy: Oryx and Crake (2003). The three book series is written by Margaret Atwood and includes O&C, The Year of the Flood (2009), and the book I just finished, MaddAddam (2013).
The MaddAddam trilogy is the best kind of post/apocalyptic literature because while reading you feel like the events could actually happen. Atwood says it best herself, “Although MaddAddam is a work of fiction, it does not include any technologies that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory.” It is the thing I love most about her writing-she takes our society and comments on it through speculation of what very well may come. In this case, the three novels revolve around
a our depraved society where executions and suicides can be viewed on television, corporations have control over everything, and several animal species have been made extinct through human consumption. Those problems are seemingly solved with a global pandemic that kills everyone except for a young man named Jimmy and a new species of humans called Crakers and named for their maker. There is so much more that goes on, but in the spirit of not wanting to spoil anything I’ll refrain from mentioning much more.
While it may seem like the MaddAddam trilogy is just a story about survival, it is so much more. It is a story about creationism, science, philosophy, morality, and humanity. There are new gods, a boy who thinks he’s god, and (in one of my favorite moments) a curse word that becomes a god (it’s a long story). There is romance, betrayal, adventure, and death. It is one of those rare series that I hope never gets made into a film because I don’t think any movie would be able to accurately capture the complexity and depth of the story.
Oryx and Crake is the strongest and first book of the series. It deals with the actual events of the pandemic that ends most of humanity and also the mysterious and super intelligent Crake who is by far one of the most interesting characters in the series. The second book, The Year of the Flood is good, but could have used a bit of editing and contained long, not very interesting religious sections-although upon learning some of the things you do the third book, the second book gains new meaning. The first two novels take place over the same timeline, just dealing with the lives of different characters. The third novel continues after the events in the first two and extends into the future. MaddAddam acts as a bridge, but also a fitting ending to the story. Atwood answers enough of our questions about the events of the past while leaving the future open to some interpretations. Is history doomed to repeat itself or can humanity be saved? How do we feel about Crake at the end of the series? What happens after the book ends? It all depends on you.
The whole series is interesting, but Oryx and Crake should be read if nothing else because it contains the most of Atwood’s style, social commentary, and existential questioning of the three. The other books add interesting additional information, but some could argue that they are unnecessary. If you do want to read this series I would recommend reading the books in quick succession, especially the first two because you will get A LOT more out of them that way. I waited over two and a half years in between Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood and I forgot a lot of the little details that might have made me appreciate the second book more. Atwood has become one of my favorite writers and I cannot wait to read more of her work. With this book, written when she was 74, Atwood proves she is an intellectual badass and one of the strongest writers around.
- Other books I read in this Apocalyptic Literature class? Blindness, a haunting and immersive novel by Jose Saramago about a pandemic that causes everyone to lose sight except for one woman, a funny and poignant graphic novel series (I’m on Book 6 out of 10) Y: The Last Man by Brian Vaughn, and The Children of Men by P.D. James which is COMPLETELY different from the movie (and therefore ruined it for me).