The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood
At the end of Oryx and Crake, the first book in this trilogy, we’ve followed the character who comes to be known as Snowman to a meeting and possible confrontation with three other apocalypse survivors. The book ends there so we’re sure the next book will pick up immediately and let us know how this worked out. Nope. Instead we’re introduced to a new group of people situated in the same world. And I have to admit, I started out thinking “What the hell, Margaret Atwood?” Then I focused on the words “Margaret Atwood”, one of the most provocative and creative writers living with us. At a certain point, especially with an excellent writer, you have to trust to be taken in a direction that will be satisfying at the end.
So in this book we follow Toby and Ren and a group called God’s Gardeners and, taking Margaret Atwood’s hand, assume she’ll walk us from the unknown forest to coherence.
This is the same world. In my reading of Oryx and Crake I made the assumption that this was a world 35-50 years in our future. After this book I’m not so sure. One character mentions that the Martha Graham Academy (where Snowman went to college) was named after some “ancient choreographer”. Maybe a hundred years would make her ancient but my perception of ancient is more on the millennium timeline than in terms of centuries. A religion calling itself God’s Gardeners has developed in the chaos before Crake’s plague. As always with Atwood her take on religion is unique. She doesn’t come across as anti-theist. In one interview I read she said she believes humans are hardwired for religion. If you read the review of Sapiens or Homo Deus this is prominent in Harari’s thinking, too. For Harari, the ability to give higher meaning to our lives was part of the amazing progress of the species. For Atwood, religion will be with us for good or ill. This is actually kind of refreshing in a science fiction writer, given the amount of two-dimensional fundamentalist nut jobs who populate the literature. If “write what you know” is a valid guideline for a writer then this is where the bulk of science fiction writers, even the “giants”, fail.
God’s Gardeners is an interesting group. Their reading of the Bible is an interpretation centered about God honoring all animal life and intending humans to be vegan. As with medieval Christians, the God’s Gardener calendar is based on saint days. Their many, many saints include Euell Gibbons, Diane Fossey, Rachel Carson, Jacques Cousteau and others I could barely place. They garden carefully, honoring every nematode and garden slug, training the children in theology and mushroom identification. It’s a wonderful reflection on how denominations often make an assumption about how life should be and work their interpretation of scripture around that assumption.
Ren and Toby, women who have survived the “pleeb” world by working for the legal SeksMart brothel company, are brought into the faith. As their story develops it becomes more and more obvious that these are characters met in Oryx and Crake but outside that context weren’t recognizable at first. As their stories develop sermons by Adam One, the leader of God’s Gardeners, become part of the story development. These are usually followed by hymns Atwood composed for the religion. Many are Lewis Carroll like, others interesting hymns to nature. Through Adam One’s talks it becomes clear that there is a coming flood as in Noah’s day and that this flood is the epidemic of the first book.
By the book’s end the characters are brought to the same spot where book one ended to tie up most of the loose knots.
While the book is well-rated on Amazon and Goodreads the reader/reviewers were frequently a lot less forgiving of Atwood’s shuffling of the deck. I say hop on the bus and trust your driver to get you to the right destination.