Maddaddam trilogy (2003-2013) by Margaret Atwood

Don't miss out on other works by Margaret Atwood:
The Handmaid's Tale (1985) Book Review
Available works by Margaret Atwood


Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy (2003-2013) is set in the near-future, in what may be the upper Midwest of United States or Canada. Within living memory of an undefined plague that has wiped most of humanity, a few survivors are left to fend for themselves and make sense of a radically changed ecology, the fallout from past experiments in bioengineering. Atwood’s postapocalyptic work is a satirical, yet cautionary tale of what can happen when large corporations are left unsupervised.

The story revolves around a number of survivors who are all connected to the late Crake, who as lead scientist at RejoovenEsense played an important role in bringing about the apocalypse. Crake’s background story is only gradually revealed. While the plague is never fully explained, it is clear that not long after a Viagra-like drug called BlyssPluss (developed by RejoovenEsense) was made available to the mass market, a global pandemic broke out. Survivors now struggle with foraging for food, violent marauders, and a variety of genetically modified creatures which have survived as well, such as the dangerous pigoons, sentient pigs originally developed to grow human organs, wolvogs (wolf and dog) and snats (snake and rat). Most importantly though is a new breed of humans known as Crakers, the survivors of Crake’s attempt to produce a better alternative to humans. Not without humour, the herbivorous humanoid Crakers are presented much like children: naïve, gentle and curious. They are also seasonal breeders and their mating revolves around polyandrous orgies. The narrative focuses on a eco-religious sect known as God's Gardeners, a small ecological community of survivors, which before the plague functioned as a sort of resistance movement to the large corporations, and now is trying to build a new society.

There is a real satirical edge to Atwood’s morality tale. In equal measures, she takes swings at the large corporations responsible for destroying the world and the pitiful environmentalist movement trying to rebuild it. The Gardeners have been hurdled into the limelight, promoted to prominence, only because of the virtue of having survived. There is nothing illustrious about their past, their chief achievement amounting to picketing outside fast-food joints like SecretBurgers, simply because it is wrong to eat anything with a face. The character of Crake – the stand-in for evil corporations – fares little better in Atwood’s hands, spending his youth smoking ‘skunkweed’, watching underground videos of live executions, graphic surgery and child pornography. He also excelled at the online extinction game, Extinctathon, and Atwood builds a monstrously poetic symmetry between his online gaming as a child and his hiring of ex-Extinctathon gamers to ‘play’ Extinctathon in real life as an adult. The two trajectories – environmentalist-turned-saviour and gamer-turned-destroyer – are reminders of how even the most insignificant of events can have unforeseen, calamitous consequences, recalling Rudy Rucker’s Ware tetralogy (1982-2000).

In an ironic turn of events, the Gardeners come to base their eco-religious aspirations on the same genetically modified species that they had railed against in the past (even Crake wanted to destroy them). Not only do the Gardeners nurture a relationship with the pigoons, but they also ’adopt’ the small community of Crakers and inadvertently participate in a project of highly speculative and misinformed mythmaking, worthy of Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (1980). Each night, the Crakers ask Toby (one of the Gardeners) to retell the story of their origin, a story, which powered by Toby’s limited knowledge, gradually mutates into a monstrosity of a creation myth. While Toby’s story mythologizes the genocidal Crake and the pious Gardeners, it also comes to include a spirit called Fuck. Entirely fabricated of course, and largely the result of trying to explain-away the use of a profanity, much like an adult does it when a child asks an uncomfortable question, ‘Fuck’ enters the story when Toby is asked why the Gardeners say ‘oh fuck’ all the time.