Once Oryx and Crake’s “BlyssPluss plague” was history, humanity’s few survivors crawled from the rubble of civilization (such as it was) to begin life in a new world. MaddAddam starts where The Year of the Flood ended; in a commune of ex-God’s Gardeners in an abandoned parkland. The survivors have built a fortified compound to keep the liobams away from their Mo’Hairs and the piggoons out of their garden. When it comes to the roving bands of painballers, there’s little to do but stand guard.
MaddAddam is narrated by Toby, who the plague locked in an ANooYoo spa. She’s accompanied by her lover, Zeb, half-brother the original God’s Gardener, Adam One. Zeb’s biography comes to life through of stories Toby tells the Crakers. In an eerie similarity to Forrest Gump, Zeb appears to have been there for everything important that led up to this new reality. The former hacker, ex-bouncer and occasional thief knew Crake back when he was Glenn; helped found the underground cabal MaddAddam, and was around back when Adam One first met Eve One.
MaddAddam is also tells of Zeb’s quest to find his missing sibling and of the strange coalition that ultimately formed to find the man and bring him home. Toby, on the other hand, makes her own contribution to the future of mankind: she teaches an adolescent Craker, Blackbeard, to read. If his species does to the planet what their creators did, all bets are off.
The third and final novel in Margaret Atwood’s trilogy, MaddAddam contains all the same Atwood invention that made Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood so special. Atwood, perhaps best-known for the mysterious The Handmaid’s Tale, has long warned against unbridled technological excess. Her trilogy is a warning for those who would, seemingly mindlessly, alter the genetic code of our world.
Although runaway genetic engineering is an obvious cause of mankind’s near-extinction in the series, Atwood codes other warnings her plot, issues that are more pressing daily. She predicts an ever-widening gulf between the rich and the poor, and laments the outsized power of corporations. In MaddAddam’s dystopian future, massive corporations have assumed the role of government; the result of which is a police state ruled by CorpSeCorps; a corporate security corps.
The soi-disant “free market” is in reality monopolized by a few corporations that reach into every business. These are the sort of corporations that add addictive chemicals to the secret sauce at their fast food joints, cause a disease with one pill and cause a second disease with the so-called cure. When just a few own most of the means of production, most of the service sector, and control law enforcement, they can basically do whatever they want – a chief reason Crake created his plague
Such a dystopia might be more dreary railing against the evils of technology and self-serving capitalism in the hands of a less-skilled author. Atwood, however, manages to focus her tale on the people who deserved to survive. MaddAddam, though lightened by its humor – “Please stop singing” – remains at its heart the history of the greatest change mankind will ever know, as seen through the eyes of one man who witnessed it happening. Zeb’s story, the core of Atwood’s narrative, is that of a life well-lived. It tells of the powerful bond of brothers; explains how revenge is more satisfying when served cold; and gives us hope that mankind still has a future. That future may be different, but at least it’s a future.