Ken-ichi's Reviews > The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
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's review
Sep 14, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: science-fiction, escape, post-apocalyptic
Read from July 09 to 13, 2010

Year of the Flood provided many of the comforting amenities I found lacking in Oryx and Crake: likeable characters, some secret-society-style mystery, and old school adventure in the post-apocalypse portions. Whereas O & C was predominantly about world-building, satire, and a bit of consciously over-the-top doomsaying, Year of the Flood dealt more with character and narrative, making it a more satisfying, if somewhat less thoughtful, read.

Oryx and Crake follows the privileged upper classes, denizens of the enclosed corporate enclaves that have profited from pushing bioengineering to horrific but lucrative extremes (why Atwood chose to focus on biotech and not more obviously evil corporate empires from the energy or military sectors I don't know). As an educated middle-class American reader, it was pretty clear these were the kinds of people I'd probably end up with, and since they basically bring about the end of the world, it didn't feel all that great being accused crimes against nature, petty vanity, and slavery to consumerism. Not that I'm denying the validity of these claims. It just stings a bit.

Year of the Flood examines the other side of the coin, denizens of the pleeblands, the semi-savage interstices outside the gated enclosures, where sex, crime, violence, and fanaticism aren't just subtexts to everyday life like they are on the inside: they're the main show. These are the corporations' serfs, their captive consumers, their guinea pigs. They're not exactly innocent, but they are certainly underdogs, and their struggles are thus considerably more comforting to follow.

On top of that, Year of the Flood just has sympathetic characters. Almost all of the Gardeners seem more personally interesting and forgivable than Jimmy, Oryx, or Crake. And things happen to them! Not horribly mundane and recognizable things like familial disintegration and feelings of inadequacy, but horribly violent things and acts of heroics! These are people we care about having adventures!

One of the more perplexing aspects of this book is how sympathetic Atwood seems to be toward religion. I'm not talking about spirituality or the power of faith itself or natural awe or any of the other vagaries we secular types generally reach for when trying to fill the religion-shaped holes in our lives, but honest-to-God, irrational, maddening, irritating, dogmatic religion. Granted, the religion of the Gardeners is the most ridiculously lefty flavor of Christianity you could imagine, but it's still filled with psalms and preaching and worship, and really, it is not criticized. Adam One is a benevolent cult leader, whose teachings about loving the Earth and living a moral life really stay with the characters and help them when they go astray. He doesn't secretly molest the kids, and while some of the flock question his means, none of them reject his faith as being unnecessary or harmfully irrational. While it was somewhat obvious in Oryx and Crake that the "good guys" (if they existed) would counter the scientific hubris of the corps, I was definitely not expecting religion to play a significant role in humanity's redemption. Weird.
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Reading Progress

07/09/2010 page 138
32.0% "This helped me survive a plane trip with not 1, not 2, but many, many screaming children."

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Cecily Atwood's apparent sympathy for religion is not as gentle in the third book, MaddAddam.

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