The story becomes really interesting when it reaches the part of Zeb's and Adam's background, but then gradually runs out of steam, until it loses it altogether at the supposedly grand finale. You'd expect there to be a big battle between the MaddAddamites and the Painballers, but no, there's nothing at all, just a big anti-climax where Adam One is killed unceremoniously and Jimmy dies too, having achieved nothing in particular. Even the Painballers are just said to be disposed of in Blackbeard's dry storytelling.
All in all a very disappointing finish of the trilogy. My three stars are only for the part of Zeb and Adam....Continua
I didn’t succeed in finishing MaddAddam at first try. The beginning did not appeal me much and I stopped at chapters on Zeb at bearlift. The beginning, I have to confess, is a bit boring. It simply lapses on and on. More new gizmos, yes, but so what? Even though there’s the broadening of scope—what happens outside the compounds and pleeblands—not all of them succeeds. In this book, we find Zeb roaming from Canadian tundra to Brazilian slums. While Atwood remains strong in her description of tundra (her Canadian legacy), the dystopian slum at Rio does not show much discrepancy to me from the pleeblands of New New York. And needless to say the coincidences, sometimes they are just too convenient as a plot device. Also, one question keeps bothering me throughout the novel: why do the Painballers seem to be immune from the plague? Does their atrocity ward the plague off? It seems so.
It was not only until my second read that the hook of the book started to hold me. In some way, MaddAddam stylistically returns to Oryx and Crake—my favorite. The pair of Zeb and Adam draws comparison with Jimmy and Crake in the first volume. They almost fall in love with the same woman, again. And the growth of Zeb and Adam at PetrOleum Church can be a bit similar with Jimmy and Crake’s at HelthWyzer Compound—perhaps this suggests the underlying similarity between big, right-wing church and global corporation. What comes back along with the pair of the male pair is the dark vengeance of Atwood’s black humor. Just as in Oryx and Crake with a male lead, she can ridicule not only the world around him but also the protagonist himself—let’s not forget Atwood’s feminist stance here. A pronounced example is the use of “fuck,” from pet phrase of several male characters to important figure in Crakers’ mythology. This is probably my favorite part of this novel.
For me, what makes the book stands from the other two volumes is the voice of the Crakers. Whereas Crakers seem to be a hoard of crazy posthuman beings Atwood fabricates in the other two books, in MaddAddam these new human beings start to gain ground and have a fuller presence. This narrative arc is reflected through the growth of Blackbeard—not a notorious pirate, but a cute Craker boy and my favorite character in the novel. At first one may think that he’s probably just another annoying Craker—I did. Things start to change as the novel slowly unravels that Crakers are able to read mind—animals and human beings alike—and seem to be clairvoyant sometimes. In several episodes later on, the MaddAddamites find it necessary to have Blackbeard around them since Blackbeard can see what human beings can’t perceive and can communicate with pigeons, “who” develop their own social norms as well. Another important episode is when Blackbeard starts to learn how to write. He first begins with names and phrases, then helps Toby tell story to his own race, then even help her write journal entries and at the end finish all the books and sayings of the MaddAddamites. What we see here is not only a shift of perspective at the end of the novel but also the emergence of a Craker subjectivity. The replacement of Toby’s narrative voice with a Craker one at the end perhaps signals that anthropocentricism is no more and the dusk of mankind has come as the first man (Adam) and last man (mad Adam Zeb / Jimmy) pass away at the end. Now the news world has a species who is more eco-friendly and more capable of communicating with other species. It will be a better world for all, but it's one in which old human beings will gradually fade out.
The ending features the death of several important characters. Adam appears conveniently with the Painballers and gets shot by them (poor soul). Jimmy dies in a heroic attempt to save Toby. “Don’t let me down.” These are Sharon’s and Oryx’s words that resound in Jimmy’s ears as he sets out to find other human beings at the end of Oryx and Crake. With his sacrifice for Toby’s life, Atwood completes Jimmy’s trajectory of painful self-regeneration from his detached loneliness when he struggles in the Compound to his willingness to take up responsibilities (for Crakers and for people around him) and make sacrifices. I think Jimmy won’t let Oryx and his mother down on anymore. As Blackbeard sees in his vision, now Jimmy is really with Oryx and Crake. What surprises me more is the death of Zeb and Toby. Indeed this book could have been finished by the chapter “book.” It’ll then be an ecotopian ending. Nevertheless, with this last chapter, Atwood reminds us that danger does not disappear with the death of the two Painballers but still lurk in this strange new world. Zeb’s death can testify that. Toby’s death perhaps reflects Atwood’s awareness of her own mortality. Yes, she’s getting pretty old by now.
Last but not the least, I think Atwood in this novel gives her tributes to several contemporary post-apocalyptic classics. The interactions between Toby and Blackbeard forms an interesting nod to Cormac McCarthy’s the man and the boy in The Road. Both novels have the boys telling their own stories to their seniors at the end. McCarthy does not tell us what story the boy tells because the story form is sometimes more important than the content of the story for McCarthy. The story form should be cherished like sacred fire because it generates meaning for you though meaning and content of the story are liable to change through generations of storytellers and readers. Atwood’s Blackbeard tells the stories of the MaddAddamites for memorials and for making sense of their origins which are closely related to these old human beings. He also takes journals, just like the narrator Lauren in Octavia Butler’s Parable Series. The difference is: Lauren takes journal for emotional relief while Blackbeard takes journal to relieve Toby from the burden of writing (what a nice boy!) Daniel 24 and 25—the Elohim posthumans in Michel Houellebecq’s The Possibility of an Island—also takes journals because that fulfills the old human beings’ imagination of immortality: that the clones will need to review the lives of their predecessor forever in a celled cocoon. Houellebecq has Daniel 25 break out of the cocoon and flee across post-apocalyptic European continent to the shore of the Atlantic. Atwood’s Crakers seem luckier in this case....Continua