14th March 2019

Exploring eco-fiction: Margaret Atwood’s ‘MaddAddam’ trilogy

Helena Torre takes a look at her favourite eco-fiction books, with a special focus on Margaret Atwood’s ‘Maddaddam’ trilogy
Exploring eco-fiction: Margaret Atwood’s ‘MaddAddam’ trilogy
Photo: Kim Seng @ Flickr

There is an increasing concern about our negative impact on nature and how to preserve the environment. In a fast-paced world, the question of how our actions impact what surrounds is undeniable. You might think this is only a matter of politics and lawmaking but literature plays a major role in understanding our environmental impact. Eco-fiction sees literature and the environment coming together. Believe me when I say that when these two join the stories they produce are shocking, to say the least.

We’ve all seen films and TV shows about how we destroy our own eco-system; dystopian films like Blade Runner and Mad Max come to mind. The alternative realities portrayed in dystopian science fiction resemble our own present time albeit completely distorted. In eco-fiction, alternative worlds remain recognisable. It is fairly easy to find similar patterns or societies, yet normally something is not quite right. One of my favourite alternative worlds is created by Margaret Atwood. No, not in The Handmaid’s Tale but in her ‘MaddAddam’ trilogy.

Serving as a great example of eco-fiction, the text revolves around a fictional United States which has been devastated by a man-made plague. As expected, human intervention in destroying the world as we know it.

The trilogy starts with Oryx and Crake, in which we meet Jimmy, a survivor of the plague and our leading character. Through Jimmy’s memories we are able to get an insight of what the world used to be before it ended: Jimmy’s dad worked at a lab creating pigs that grow organs and have human brain tissue. In this world, porn and online violence become one of the main sources of entertainment and people are separated in ghettos, echoing the dystopian society that Orwell created in 1984.

The narrative time of The Year of the Flood is the same as the one in Oryx and Crake, the difference however is that our protagonists here are Toby and Ren, two former ‘God’s Gardeners’ that have survived the plague secluded in a Spa Centre and a Striptease Club respectively. As well as reading their personal stories on how they became ‘God’s Gardeners’ (and what that entails), we see Toby and Ren struggling to survive and taking care of each other.

An interesting aspect of this trilogy is the fact that it not only focuses on how the world ended, but it also shows a lot of the aftermath and the creation of a new society. Finally, in MaddAddam, there is a growing sense of community as Ren, Toby, and Jimmy meet with some other survivors.

The books explore the futility of human life while the characters try to develop a sense of purpose by having to create new rules, new tools and figuring out how their new society will be reproducing. The focus on the impact of man over nature is key here. These texts invite us to pause and consider the consequences of human actions. Great authors like Atwood create stories that help us understand our environmental impacts, they are as enjoyable as they are essential.

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