Saturday, October 31, 2009

Canadian Science Fiction

I hear that Margaret Atwood doesn't think she writes science fiction, but that is unfortunate, because she does. (Sorry!) The Year of the Flood is her second book about the near future, with exaggerated depictions of future green recyclers, corporations, and genetic food modifiers. The extrapolations are often grimly funny, with enough truth to stay uncomfortable.

But the allegory tends to take over the story with the endless coincidences -- there are two main characters, and it seems that the main way to survive the immediate catastrophe is to have known or dated one of them. Or attacked them. Almost everyone important to them manages to survive at least briefly, until the fact of the apocalypse seems diminished. In science fiction, one of the characters is the world, and Atwood definitely treats the new setting as an important character. Yet her human protagonists suffer a bit, which is a shame because Atwood is wonderful at portraying interesting characters, especially women. We see glimpses of that here, especially around Toby, but then attention wanders to another cool gizmo. So Atwood is not only writing science fiction, she is falling to one of its typical pitfalls.

One thing that annoyed me, rather unfairly, is that I trusted the previous book, Oryx and Crake, too much. The main character of that book (who shows up in this one) made a lot of bad conclusions about the world (he thought he was the last survivor) that I believed. Finding out that he was wrong undermines a lot of that book, and makes me hesitate to trust what I'm learning in this one. Which is my own fault -- Atwood made it quite clear throughout both books that Jimmy was an idiot, so I really had no reason to trust him on anything.

But reading this book did make me pay more attention to recycling, and to indoctrinating my children with many strange rituals, both worthy endeavors. B.

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