Monday, March 2, 2009

Get your squid hats ready

Margaret Atwood has a new novel coming out soon, The Year of the Flood. It is, of course, not science fiction. From Amazon:
Adam One, the kindly leader of the God's Gardeners - a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, the preservation of all species, the tending of the Earth, and the cultivation of bees and organic crops on flat rooftops - has long predicted the Waterless Flood. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have avoided it: the young trapeze-dancer, Ren, locked into the high-end sex club, Scales and Tails; and former SecretBurgers meat-slinger turned Gardener, Toby, barricaded into the luxurious AnooYoo Spa, where many of the treatments are edible. Have others survived? Ren's bioartist friend Amanda, or the MaddAddam eco-fighters? Ren's one-time teenage lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the CorpSeCorps, the shadowy and corrupt policing force of the ruling powers Meanwhile, in the natural world, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo'hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue.
I liked The Handmaid's Tale, and it certainly needs no additional defense from me among science fiction fans. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Governor General's Award, was shortlisted for a Nebula, a Booker, and a Prometheus Award (an odd collection of awards and nominations if ever there was one).

Handmaid's Tale belongs in the great pantheon of dystopian novels of warning, and Atwood's second proper SF novel (we're not counting The Blind Assassin for these purposes) left me decidedly cold. I never got past the first few chapters of Oryx and Crake, and it was not well treated by SF reviewers.

This new book, from a rather short description, looks to have replicated many of the things that are wrong with Oryx and Crake. Atwood's prose is often sublime, but when she turns to post-apocalyptic satire, her use of ham-fisted neologisms is painful.

So I probably won't be reading it, unless the reviews are much, much better than I expect. Instead, I'll probably go read her last book from the Massey Lecture series, Payback. Written just before the current economic upheaval, a book about debt and indebtedness looks like a pretty good warning of dystopia about now.

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