‘MaddAddam’ is the final volume in the near future dystopian trilogy that started with ‘Oryx and Crake’ and continued with ‘The Year of the Flood’. While the events in the first two novels about the end of the world as we know it took place at the same time, albeit with different casts of characters, ‘MaddAddam’ moves us forward in time and unites the two sets of characters. Jimmy, once Crake’s best friend, now deathly ill with an infection, is in the care of the remnants of God’s Gardeners, an ecological/religious group, who also find themselves the caretakers of the Craker’s, those innocent, leaf eating people who Crake created as replacements for the fatally flawed human race. The group is also imperiled by two of the Painballers- former prisoners who earned their freedom in gladiator style fights that burned out their ability to feel empathy and left them with a huge appetite for torture- who are lurking in the forest that surround their home and garden. An even bigger peril they face is the fact that food and other supplies are rapidly running out; it’s getting harder and harder to find anything useful in the remnants of the city, and they have no ideas how to survive in Stone Age conditions.
While the plot that moves the book along is how the group deals with the Painballers, it really doesn’t take up much of the text. The majority of the story is Zeb’s history: how he and his brother (who became MaddAddam) grew up tortured by their father, the head of the Church of PetrOleum; and the close calls he had after running away. This history serves to tell us about how the world right before the apocalypse was functioning.
It’s a horrific world that God’s Gardeners and the rest inhabit, but t he real horror is that humans already possess the technology to make all the creatures in this book, including the deadly diseases that wipe out humanity and the Painballers with their inability to care about anyone other than themselves. We are already on the course of megacorporations taking over our lives and government. Ice caps are already melting and permafrost thawing. The gap between rich and poor widens.
‘MaddAddam’ is brilliantly written and serves as a warning about the path we’re headed down. But it’s not preachy; it’s a damn good adventure story. My only complaint was with the character of Toby; in ‘Year of the Flood’ she is an incredibly strong person, focused and capable. In ‘MaddAddam’, we witness her relationship with Zeb turning her into an insecure, jealous woman, tortured by doubts about Zeb’s feelings for her and whether he is having sex with other women- especially one who is putting on a display of her sexual readiness for all the males of the camp. This bothered me a lot to see Toby reduced to this state, but later I wondered: was she written like this to compare her to the Crakers, who have no sexual jealousy? Or to show that in a situation where the world has ended and must be rebuilt, the fertile woman is reduced to her ability to repopulate the world? Or perhaps just that no matter what happens in the larger world, human beings will be human beings. I don’t know, but I found it very irritating.
The best part of the book is the way that big parts of it are told by Toby to the Crakers in their nightly story time. You only hear Toby’s voice; what the Crakers are saying and doing is implied by her answers. I found their naivety funny and felt sympathy for Toby’s frustration with their incessant questions. One of the most surprising things in the book is who became the allies of the God’s Gardeners in the end.
While it wasn’t the most satisfying conclusion, it’s still a very good book. It’s a standalone novel and has a ‘the story so far’ section in the front, but I recommend reading the first two volumes before this one.
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