The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Read for the Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge, the Second Best Reading Challenge, and the Apocalypse Now! Reading Challenge.
Method of the world's destruction: ecological devastation, corporate greed, and a mad scientist's bioengineered supervirus.
This book is part of Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam trilogy, and it runs concurrently to Oryx and Crake, which I read and reviewed earlier this year. As others have observed, it suffers by comparison, but that's probably not fair. If it were taken entirely on its own it would have been mind-blowing, but because we already know so much of the story from Oryx and Crake it's merely awesome.
This read to me a lot like what would happen if you crossed Stephen King's The Running Man and The Stand with The Island of Dr. Moreau, except with female protagonists; a younger woman named Ren (who tells us her story in the first person) and an older woman named Toby (who tells us her story in the third person personal,) who at one point were both part of a religious group called God's Gardeners. A third protagonist, whose voice emerges as sermons that separate the chapters, is Adam One, the leader of the God's Gardeners sect that these women are (or were) a part of. It's basically their story of how they survive. While the absurdities of life and the raw humanity of the characters will remind a King reader of his style, Atwood differs considerably from King in her tone. King's characters are like people under way-too-bright lights; their flaws are glaring and jarring. Atwood portrays her characters' flaws as intentional shadows and shading that make the whole more beautiful, like a well-constructed painting. Though there is some pretty bald-faced evil in this book, and some really nasty people who do terrible things; yet Atwood somehow succeeds in making you pity them a little too.
Readers who were fans of Oryx and Crake will be entertained by the many ways in which the lives of Crake and Jimmy (Snowman) intertwine in and out of the lives of the protagonists of this novel, and they might also appreciate how many of the mysteries of the first novel are explained in this, the second. Or they might regard it, as one reviewer put it, as "someone turning on the lights after a really good ghost story." Honestly I don't think that's a bad metaphor, but I don't see it as a bad thing. It really is like that. Oryx and Crake was horrific and bleak. The Year of the Flood restores our hope that humanity just might make it despite itself.
I think one of the most interesting things about this book was the depth of culture that was created for the God's Gardeners. Part Humanistic Christian, part Neo-Pagan, part New Age hippie and part Earthseed, the God's Gardeners hold to a theology in which ecology and the natural cycles of life and death, plus the Earth and all its creatures, are sacred. They remind me of the more dedicated spiritual ecologist types that used to shop at my metaphysical store, and I myself know many of the nearly-lost skills that this sect, obviously regarded as quaint weirdos until a splinter cell dabbled in eco-terrorism, teach. I love that they have made people who were, or are, champions of ecology, peace, and peaceful courage into saints; among them Gandhi, Dian Fossey, David Suzuki, Karen Silkwood, and Terry Fox, to give a few examples who stuck out for me because they are heroes of mine.
She even wrote hymns for the Gardeners based on Anglican and United Church hymns. What's fun is that I found myself thinking, "These are actually pretty cool. With a little adjustment they would work for Pagan rituals. I should find out which hymns they were based on and write some music for them." Turns out I don't have to, because someone else did, in a CD called "The Hymns of God's Gardeners," which you can buy on Amazon or listen to on YouTube. And Atwood invited anyone to freely use them for "amateur devotional or environmental purposes" in her Afterword. Thank you, Ms. Atwood; expect this Canadian witch to take you up on it.
I have three - no, four - complaints, all of them minor and none of them a deal-breaker. The first is that I would really like to read just one post-apocalyptic story in which the women do not get raped. This is becoming so much a part of post-apocalyptic literature that I think men are going to start planning on it as part of their preparations. "Okay, we have to stockpile canned food, water, ammunition, and women for the harem." Listen; all men do not turn into roving rapists as soon as disaster strikes. And while I'm on this subject, it seems to me that Ms. Atwood doesn't like men very much. Almost every male in all three of the books by her I've read thus far have been mostly jerks. I like the way she ultimately resolved it, though. I'm not telling you; that would be a spoiler. ;)
So those two complaints are related. The other two complaints involve reactions to the novel. The Globe and Mail is quoted on the front of The Year of the Flood, calling it "A work of fearless imagination." Which implies that it's totally original and one-of-a-kind. It's not. It's great, don't get me wrong! I'm definitely a fan and I think I'm going to make a point of reading everything Atwood has ever written now because I love the way she writes, but nothing Atwood has done in this novel is anything that hasn't appeared in science fiction before. Genetic engineering, dystopias, post-apocalyptic disaster scenarios, weird creatures, new forms of humanity, strange religious sects, eco-terrorists, climate disasters and evil, all-controlling corporations that run everything while humanity indifferently just tries to keep its head down instead of stopping it; none of this is new. It's all been done before. The key here is just that Atwood does it really well!
Which leads me to my final complaint. Once again, Atwood does not want to admit that this is science fiction. I watched an interview with her on YouTube about this book, and what she said this time was that she didn't want to be accused of false advertising. She didn't want people to think there were going to be "Martians and galaxies" because there aren't.
What is her damage?! As if that's all science fiction has ever been! I think she just doesn't want to admit that it's science fiction because then she might have to admit that her work is not the "fearlessly imaginative" creation that all these reviewers who sneer at science fiction but wouldn't know it if it bit them in the face think that it is.
Well, she may not want to call it science fiction, but we know it when we see it. Personally, I think she ought to be awarded the Nebula for Best Author and the Hugo for Best Novel. It would be fun to watch her squirm, figuring out how to maintain her ultra-literary reputation without alienating 75% of her readers.
Okay; but aside from how angry that personally makes me, this is a beautifully rendered world, rendered in even more detail, with compelling characters and a gripping story and liquid prose that kept me turning pages until there were no more pages to turn. I loved it, and I can't wait to read the final chapter, MaddAddam.
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The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
As someone who comes to goddess spirituality from a feminist thealogy perspective, I have found it important to distinguish between the lineage and history of goddess spirituality and that of contemporary paganism as a broader and larger movement. While the roots of goddess spirituality are indeed entwined with paganism and Wicca, there is still a distinct “herstory” of the goddess movement in the United States, as well as qualities, traditions, values, perspectives, and tenants within it that are worthy of consideration on a stand-alone basis.
The Goddess in America, forthcoming from Moon Books this fall, is a highly recommended anthology of insightful essays about the meaning, role, expression, and experience of the Goddess in the United States. This is not a 101 or introductory book, but rather a complex exploration of a variety of topics including cultural appropriation, differences between feminist goddess spirituality and Wicca, contemporary priestessing, pop culture goddesses, goth goddesses, polytheism vs monotheistic concepts (i.e .the difference between “all goddesses as one” and each goddess as an individual), goddesses and the land and whether goddesses can be “transported” to other locations/lands, and much more. The book contains contributions from nineteen writers with diverse perspectives and experiences and it identifies the “enduring experience of Goddess Spirituality through a four-part discussion focused on the Native Goddess, the Migrant Goddess, the Goddess in relation to other aspects of American culture (Feminism, Christianity, Witchcraft, etc.) and the Goddess in contemporary America.” As someone who loves books, I believe that anthologies are possibly one of the greatest inventions of all time. Indeed, the only problem I had with this book was that the writers were so talented and have written so many other interesting books, that my to-read bookshelf now becoming even more extensive!...
I started my quest to find the name or word Aurkonungr while reviewing Lecouteux’s new Encyclopedia, which has an entry for Aurkonungr saying it is a name of Honir. Some of the entries had citations to sources, but not that one. Because I had never heard of such a name for Honir, I set out to find the source. Long did I trek through the mountains up the rocky river, seeking the source, the well of wisdom, beset by skaven and… ahem, no, I sensibly got on Google, which returned 0 results. That word literally does not exist on the internet. Well, it didn’t—it does now, ironically, here in this blog post.
Members of the American Asatru Association’s Facebook discussion group helped me track down where Lecouteux was most likely to have gotten the word from. Although aurkonungr does not appear on the net, there is exactly one return for a reasonable variation of the word, árkonungr: “et, que Ynglingasaga qualifie plusieurs rois de árkonungr, gódr árkonungr, roi, bon roi à moissons” from Tripertita: fonctionnels chez divers peuples indoeuropéens by Georges Dumézil. This word is only written that way in French. In Icelandic texts, it's written as two words, ár konungr....
With the holidays coming in just a few weeks, I bet you're thinking of the presents you'd like to buy--whether for loves ones or for yourself. For me there's no gift better than a good book. Books are food for the soul, precious companions on our life journeys. Honoring the magical number three, as well as the multitude of voices that speak about the Sacred Feminine, allow me to share with you my three favorite anthologies:
“As I continue writing stories about people who are transforming religion and culture through including the Divine Feminine in sacred rituals, hope stirs within me. As I hear their visions for the future of the Divine Feminine, my vision expands.”
–Jann Aldredge-Clanton, Healing, Freedom, and Transformation through the Sacred Feminine.
“…monotheists have described the divine as ‘Father’ for over 2,000 years. Even if we neutered the God, to be labeled only an ‘It,’ we would still have the masculine echo ringing in our ears for another thousand years. So maybe it would make sense to call her the Goddess for a millennium or so, if only to even things out. Then perhaps we could move on to something more gender inclusive.”
–Tim Ward, Why Would a Man Search for the Goddess
“I don’t believe the Goddess is stupid or suicidal. I believe she evolved human beings for a purpose, to be her healing hands and loving heart. We may be growing into the job.”
–Starhawk, Earth, Spirit, and Action: Letting the Wildness In
As a way to keep the blog flowing (and supplement a new project Ill share with you soon!) I'm rereading Ronald Hutton's Triumph of The Moon. I'm placing here summaries of the chapters for reference and easy reading for any of you who don't have the book.
Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of The Moon, undertakes the task of tracing the developments of contemporary paganism and witchcraft as it originated in the English speaking nations of Europe and their influences. His first chapter, “Finding A Language” is a necessary foundation for the reader, supplying and clarifying a vocabulary with which the rest of the book uses and sets the historical framework within which the events examined take place. Hutton superbly mingles witty observations with historical records and cultural paradigms to produce, not merely definitions, but a working understanding of how and why the terms came to be....
“On any spiritual path, and most especially on one that is simultaneously a path of magical practice, our real progress and growth is measurable largely in the capacity to pass the challenges that are set before us. The easy parts of the journey are not the most important.”
–Philip Kane (in his essay on Laverna, Naming the Goddess, p. 232)
Naming the Goddess, published by Moon Books, is a collaborative work bringing together essays written by over eighty scholars and practitioners of Goddess Spirituality, including contributions from Selena Fox, Kathy Jones, Caroline Wise and Rachel Patterson. A unique aspect of this book is that it is a two-part project with the first part of the book containing a series of contemplative and scholarly essays and the second part serving as a “gazetteer” of different goddesses, making it useful both as a reference book and as well as one that encourages reflective spiritual thought.