Saturday, April 17, 2010

Life After People

I had excellent luck at the library last weekend. I came home with about eight books, and two of the newer ones I wanted were in. I decided to take the potential fine hit and get them, because who knows when they'll be in again?

The one I wanted to read the most was Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood. I'm a big fan of Oryx and Crake, and I've enjoyed several of her other books as well. Year of the Flood takes us back to our own dystopian future from Oryx and Crake, and several of the minor characters that paraded around the edges are back, for a different perspective on the events that led to humanity's being wiped out.

Or nearly wiped out. In O&C, Jimmy believed himself to be the sole human survivor of his buddy Crake's super-plague, just him and the Crakers until the end of his life. In Year of the Flood, we learn that more have survived than we may have thought. It makes sense, in retrospect. The society depicted in these books is a police state, all about power and control. People's movements were restricted, they couldn't go places without good reason, it makes logical sense that there'd be a fair amount of people who were isolated from their fellow man.

Toby, for instance, who barricaded herself inside the high-class AnooYoo Spa, even though her co-workers all decided to go be with their families. Or Ren, a stripper/hooker (and Jimmy's onetime girlfriend) who worked at a club called Scales & Tails, where the women all wore these super-realistic animal costumes that were sort of alive and bonded directly to their skin. One night just before the plague, a customer tore Ren's costume, and she had to be placed in quarantine lockdown.

But as with O&C, most of the real action is in the past. Life in a depopulated world is interesting, but kind of begs the question, 'What the hell happeend?'

We get a different perspective on the events leading up to the super-plague here. Toby and Ren, who are the book's main characters, were also God's Gardeners, a religous, environmentally based organization. They were never isolated safely in a luxurious corporate Compound, but were out in the dangerous, disease-ridden Pleeblands, where unspeakable things happen all the time.

If you liked the gore from the first novel, this one delivers plenty of that, as well. The SecretBurgers, sold on every street corner, and comprised of animal proteins whose source could be anything at all, I mean ANYTHING. Same with garboil, a fuel made up of garbage, even people. The same sort of amoral feeling pervades the young people of the book. They have vile insults for one another, even the boys in God's Gardeners often encourage girls to suck their carrots, or call them meatholes, etc.

Unlike the first book, though, this one feels a bit less hopeless. It seems to seek to answer some of the questions raised by the first, one fo the big ones being: "You mean, everyone was OK with all of this?" Year of the Flood shows that NOT everyone was OK with environmental degradation and corporate control over all aspects of life. Not everyone thought that it was cool to make pigs with human brain tissue and splice lions and lambs together. Not everyone was willing to just buy more plastic crap as they were told to do. The God's Gardeners lived together in a communal setting, grew their own food, created their own energy in treadmill gyms and using solar technology, and practiced organic medicine. They had a school for their kids. They were strict vegans ('meat-breath' was a major insult).

They begin by just passive resistance. Living their own way, following their own path. The book is the tale of their dark days, their challenges, and how, in a way, they claimed victory over their enemies. If you hated Oryx, you won't like this either. But if you enjoyed it, this book is certainly a worthy follow-up.