Specimen One: Toby, a former high-ranking member of the now defunct fallaciously pacifist eco-freak religious cult, God’s Gardeners. Specimen Two: Ren, a former Gardener, and up until just now, an exotic dancer at Scales & Tails. Could it be? Are these two women the last people on earth? Told in a series of alternating POV’s, flashbacks and flash-forwards, part of the fun of Margaret Atwood’s sometimes laborious novel, The Year of the Flood, is finding out if they are…or if they aren’t…and if they aren’t…who or what awaits them in a post-apocalyptic world?
Though it’s by no means a necessary pre-requisite, perhaps if I had read Atwood’s earlier novel Oryx and Crake (whose events run somewhat parallel to The Year of the Flood in the same futuristic and doomed universe) I would not have been as confused early on, and when certain characters made an appearance or particular events were referenced, there would’ve been more “AHA!” moments for me. But you see, it’s not so much a grand serial epic or the apocalypse per se that Atwood is most interested in. It’s the speculation…
Like Kurt Vonnegut before her, Atwood (though at times more vulgar and extreme) does not write science fiction. She writes speculative fiction. She’s a keen observer of current trends in technology, pop culture and social mores, and she speculates on how those trends might evolve and shape society in the future. It’s sometimes satirical, sometimes humorous, often odd and occasionally frightening. For all the cutesy clever names she comes up with for things, groups, and trends (like the AnooYoo Spa for all your aesthetic re-design and relaxation needs or the Sea/H/Ear Candies which have replaced IPods) there are some things in her future world that will positively make your skin crawl (like the secret ingredient of SecretBurger or the special oils and discarded trash that make up the alterna-fuel Garboil). There are times when the narrative stops dead as Atwood insists on giving us official hymns and communications from the Gardener’s highest priest (Adam One), and there were times when I felt there were too many minor characters to keep track of. But these faults are easily overlooked as there’s a slow build to the final “what if????”
Atwood’s dystopian world is one in which private corporations, lunatic religious cults and scientists hell-bent on gene-splicing have run amok. There seems to be no more nations, only compounds, and every one has their spies, their sabotage and their insidious infiltration of the “other” often resulting in raw violence. Though it takes some time to get accustomed to, Atwood’s vision is so detailed in its description of the new social classes, communal structure, popular culture and the individual’s place in it, that it becomes not so much fantastic as eerily and shockingly possible. Her world becomes your home. Though there is an inevitable end at hand (through a plague described as a “waterless flood”), there is no end to her novel in the traditional sense…and in the end, I had come to care for the characters and the relationships forged so much that I realized Atwood had presented, scales, boils and all…a world that could so easily…be.
Atwood has ultimately crafted something so vivid, it’s damn near un-filmable…though, my god, could you imagine someone like a Tarantino taking a stab at this?
The mind boggles at all the terrifying possibilities.
Written by David H. Schleicher