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The Year of the Flood [Paperback]

Margaret Atwood
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Book Description
The long-awaited new novel from Margaret Atwood. The Year of the Flood is a dystopic masterpiece and a testament to her visionary power.

The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God's Gardeners--a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life--has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God's Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible.

Have others survived? Ren's bioartist friend Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her onetime lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the shadowy, corrupt policing force of the ruling powers...

Meanwhile, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo'hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through this strange new world, Ren and Toby will have to decide on their next move. They can't stay locked away...

By turns dark, tender, violent, thoughtful, and uneasily hilarious, The Year of the Flood is Atwood at her most brilliant and inventive.


Margaret Atwood on The Year of the Flood

I’ve never before gone back to a novel and written another novel related to it. Why this time? Partly because so many people asked me what happened right after the end of the 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake. I didn’t actually know, but the questions made me think about it. That was one reason. Another was that the core subject matter has continued to preoccupy me.

When Oryx and Crake came out, it seemed to many like science fiction--way out there, too weird to be possible--but in the three years that passed before I began writing The Year of the Flood, the perceived gap between that supposedly unreal future and the harsh one we might very well live through was narrowing fast. What is happening to our world? What can we do to reverse the damage? How long have we got? And, most importantly--what kind of "we"? In other words, what kind of people might undertake the challenge? Dedicated ones--they’d have to be. And unless you believe our planet is worth saving, why bother?

So the question of inspirational belief entered the picture, and once you have a set of beliefs--as distinct from a body of measurable knowledge--you have a religion. The God’s Gardeners appear briefly in Oryx and Crake, but in The Year of the Flood, they’re central. Like all religions, the Gardeners have their own leader, Adam One. They also have their own honoured saints and martyrs, their special days, their theology. They may look strange and obsessive and even foolish to non-members, but they’re serious about what they profess; as are their predecessors, who are with us today. I’ve found out a great deal about rooftop gardens and urban beekeeping while writing this book!

Another question frequently asked about Oryx and Crake concerned gender. Why was the story told by a man? How would it have been different if the narrator had been a woman? Such questions led me to Ren and Toby, and then to their respective lives, and also to their places of refuge. A high-end sex club and a luxury spa would in fact be quite good locations in which to wait out a pandemic plague: at least you’d have bar snacks, and a lot of clean towels.

In his book, The Art Instinct, Denis Dutton proposes that our interest in narrative is built in--selected during the very long period the human race spent in the Pleistocene--because any species with the ability to tell stories about both past and future would have an evolutionary edge. Will there be a crocodile in the river tomorrow, as there was last year? If so, better not go there. Speculative fictions about the future, like The Year of the Flood, are narratives of that kind. Where will the crocodiles be? How will we avoid them? What are our chances? --Margaret Atwood

(Photo © George Whiteside)

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. SignatureReviewed by Marcel TherouxIn her 2002 speculative novel, Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood depicted a dystopic planet tumbling toward apocalypse. The world she envisaged was in the throes of catastrophic climate change, its wealthy inhabitants dwelling in sterile secure compounds, its poor ones in the dangerous pleeblands of decaying inner cities. Mass extinctions had taken place, while genetic experiments had populated the planet with strange new breeds of animal: liobams, Mo'Hairs, rakunks. At the end of the book, we left its central character, Jimmy, in the aftermath of a devastating man-made plague, as he wondered whether to befriend or attack a ragged band of strangers. The novel seemed complete, closing on a moment of suspense, as though Atwood was content simply to hint at the direction life would now take. In her profoundly imagined new book, The Year of the Flood, she revisits that same world and its catastrophe. Like Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood begins just after the catastrophe and then tracks back in time over the corrupt and degenerate world that preceded it. But while the first novel focused on the privileged elite in the compounds and the morally bankrupt corporations, The Year of the Flood depicts more of the world of the pleebs, an edgy no-man's land inhabited by criminals, sex workers, dropouts and the few individuals who are trying to resist the grip of the corporations.The novel centers on the lives of Ren and Toby, female members of a fundamentalist sect of Christian environmentalists, the God's Gardeners. Led by the charismatic Adam One, whose sermons and eco-hymns punctuate the narrative, the God's Gardeners are preparing for life after the prophesied Waterless Flood. Atwood plays some of their religion for laughs: their hymns have a comically bouncing, churchy rhythm, and we learn that both Ren and Toby have been drawn toward the sect for nonreligious reasons. Yet the gentleness and benignity of the Gardeners is a source of hope as well as humor. As absurd as some of their beliefs appear, Atwood seems to be suggesting that they're a better option than the naked materialism of the corporations.This is a gutsy and expansive novel, rich with ideas and conceits, but overall it's more optimistic than Oryx and Crake. Its characters have a compassion and energy lacking in Jimmy, the wounded and floating lothario at the previous novel's center.Each novel can be enjoyed independently of the other, but what's perhaps most impressive is the degree of connection between them. Together, they form halves of a single epic. Characters intersect. Plots overlap. Even the tiniest details tessellate into an intricate whole. In the final pages, we catch up with Jimmy once more, as he waits to encounter the strangers. This time around, Atwood commits herself to a dramatic and hopeful denouement that's in keeping with this novel's spirit of redemption.Marcel Theroux's most recent novel, Far North, was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in June.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

In her new novel, Atwood returns to the post-apocalyptic mode of her 2003 book, “Oryx and Crake,” with the story of two women isolated as a genetically engineered plague destroys mankind. Both women have been members of God’s Gardeners, an eco-cult that has long prophesied retribution for society’s apathy and selfishness, and while they wait for signs of life from the outside they spend their days remembering past loves and not-quite-healed wounds. Atwood’s gallows humor is appealing—one of the women joins the cult in order to escape the abusive manager of a human-meat burger joint—and her complex characterization allows the novel’s environmental, Biblical, and sociological themes to intertwine seamlessly. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

As in Oryx and Crake, Atwood imbues The Year of the Flood with her deep, dramatic vision of the devastation wrought by our destruction of Earth. Most critics bought into this richly envisioned cautionary tale, "part Hieronymus Bosch, part A Clockwork Orange" (New York Times), while acknowledging its improbabilities. Despite the novel's clear, bleak message, most also found it less didactic than her companion book. Like previous works, the relationships between women form the true heart of the novel. Despite the book's power, some reviewers voiced complaints about the geographical and historical abstractions; the unfocused wit; the self-important tone; and the lush detail, "often to the point of morbid silliness" (Times). But as the New York Times Book Review pointed out, perhaps "the flaws … are part of the pleasure, as they are with human beings, that species so threatened by its own impending suicide and held up here for us to look at, mourn over, laugh at and hope for." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“[Written with] energy, inventiveness, and narrative panache. . . . A gripping and visceral book that showcases [Atwood’s] pure storytelling talents.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“[The Year of the Flood] shows the Nobel Prize-worthy Atwood . . . at the pinnacle of her prodigious creative powers.” —Elle
 
“A heart-pounding thriller.” —The Washington Post Book World
 
“Leave it to Atwood to find humor in a post-apocalyptic world as she covertly, and brilliantly, addresses questions of how we need to live on an imperiled planet.” —Kansas City Star

“Atwood is funny and clever, such a good writer and real thinker. . . . The Year of the Flood isn’t prophecy, but it is eerily possible.” —The New York Times Book Review
 
“Timely and gripping. . . . Atwood tells a good story, one filled with suspense and even levity.” —USA Today
 
“Enthralling. . . . Memorable characters, a tightly controlled pace and shockingly plausible scenes make it fly—to a mysterious, skin-prickling ending.” —San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Atwood renders this civilization and these two lives within it with tenderness and insight, a healthy dread, and a guarded humor.” —O, the Oprah Magazine
 
“Atwood spins the most arresting alternate mythologies to our hell-bent world. . . . The Year of the Flood is a slap-happy romp through the end times. Stuffed with cornball hymns, genetic mutations worth of Thomas Pynchon and a pharmaceutical company run amok, it reads like dystopia verging on satire. She may be imagining a world in flames, but she’s doing it with a dark cackle.” —The Los Angeles Times
 
“Thought-provoking, beautifully constructed, and rich with the imaginative flourishes for which [Atwood] is rightly famous. . . . A hugely entertaining and satisfying read.” —The Irish Independent
 
“Prodigiously imaginative and outrageously funny. . . . Atwood’s wit is biting. . . . Her brilliance dazzles.” The Plain Dealer
 
“Heart-pounding, mysterious and surprisingly touching. . . . She enchants us so convincingly that after her spell is over, the ‘real’ world seems temporarily transformed. The Year of the Flood is both a warning and a gift.” Jane Ciabattari, “Books We Like,” NPR.org
 
“Atwood is a wry wizard at world-building. . . . Fans . . . should grab a biohazard suit, crawl into a hermetically sealed fallout shelter, and dive right in.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“Funny. . . . Entertaining. . . . You fall into her intensely inventive world and find yourself carried happily along.” —Anthony Doerr, Orion Magazine

“Atwood scores a 10.” —Philadelphia Inquirer
 
“Atwood's latest is a fiercely imagined tale of suffering that rivals Job’s. . . . As dark as Atwood's vision may be, the bonds among her women give her work a bittersweet power.” —People
 
“Richly imagined. . . . Thought-provoking, unexpectedly funny and utterly original.” —The Denver Post
 
“Engrossing and suspenseful.” —The New York Review of Books
 
“Riveting. . . . Cunning, droll. . . . The intensity of her apocalyptic fantasy doesn’t prevent Atwood from giving free rein to her peppery and inventive humor. . . . So she courts us with her puckish wit, holds us spellbound with suspense, and then confronts us with harrowing and tragic scenarios.” —The Kansas City Star
 
“Atwood’s language remains as juicy and colorful as ever. . . . [She] allows her imagination to roam rudely, widely, and vigorously where lesser minds fear to tread.” —Barnes & Noble Review
 
“Vintage Atwood: It’s artfully edgy, casting a pitiless eye on her fellow creatures. . . . A powerful indictment of the way human beings have long treated the planet and themselves. . . . The book takes big risks.” —Chicago Tribune


“Mesmerizing. . . . Flood's relentlessly fabulous inventions and despondent predictions become almost unbearable, especially told in such gorgeously trenchant prose. In this way, the book recalls Atwood’s 1985 masterpiece, The Handmaid's Tale.” —Time Out New York (five out of five stars)

“Atwood unflinchingly holds aloft the sanctity of life—for all species—and the human quest for love.”  —Chicago Sun-Times

“With Atwood’s characteristic brainy humor. . . . The Year of the Flood consistently does what one expects of any work by Margaret Atwood: It entertains, spins out suspense and rewards a reader's basic impulse, all the while subtly and expertly maintaining its literary respectability.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[An] entertaining, often mesmerizing, consciousness-raising novel. . . . This is a work that amuses, informs, enlightens and, remarkably, also challenges its readers to be better persons.” —San Antonio Express-News
 
“[Atwood] is emerging as literature’s queen of the apocalypse. . . . Fine. . . . Illuminating. . . . Gripping and scary, provocative and quite humorous.” Associated Press
 
“A marvelously absorbing novel. . . . Vivid and remarkably drawn.” —The A. V. Club
 
“[With] Atwood’s trademark wit and clarity of vision.” —The Dallas Morning News
 
“Atwood's mischievous, suspenseful, and sagacious dystopian novel follows the trajectory of current environmental debacles to a shattering possible conclusion with passionate concern and arch humor.” —Booklist, starred review

About the Author

Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in over thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, shortlisted for the Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; and her most recent, Oryx and Crake, shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize. She lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

From The Washington Post

From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com All science fiction is really about the present. What novels set in the future do is simply extrapolate from now: If such and such a trend goes on -- grows worse or more intense or simply skids out of control -- where might it lead, what might happen? In Margaret Atwood's "The Year of the Flood" -- set in the same world as her 2003 novel "Oryx and Crake" -- we recognize some of the more repugnant aspects of our own 21st-century society gone totally rancid. In the future, the HelthWyzer Corporation acts as the government. Its top researchers and their families live in a guarded and barricaded compound that separates them from the underclass. The police have been replaced by the private security force of HelthWyzer, the CorpSeCorps, and its storm troopers keep the peace by simply doing away with undesirables, "terrorists" and anyone who opposes the corporation's activities. More often than not, the victims' bodies, usually minus some important organs, are ground up with sundry other ingredients, some of them mammal, in the addictive SecretBurgers. The SecretBurgers chain then employs young people desperate for work, all of whom must wear baseball caps and T-shirts that say: "SecretBurgers! Because Everyone Loves a Secret!" Of course, if you're a cute and limber young woman, you might take a much better job with SeksMart, where you could work as a "comfort girl" or perform as a pole dancer at a club like Scales and Tails. More likely than not, you'd probably need Bimplants with responsive nipples, and you'd definitely be wearing a Biofilm Bodyglove -- for disease protection -- and lots of glitter and paint and colorful feathers or iridescent scales: Fantasy is the name of the game. But "plank work" -- no matter how soft the actual bed -- can still be brutal, especially if Painballers drop in for a little amusement. The Painball Arena -- actually a forested no man's land full of hidden TV cameras -- pits teams of brutish criminals against each other in a kill-or-be-killed competition. You can watch the action on cable. The few who survive the arena are more predator than human, as well as insane. Not that life out in the so-called Sewage Lagoon is anything but nasty and ruthless. Out of desperation, many people have turned to, or retreated into, various cults, to the disgust of members of the "rich religions" like the Known Fruits and the Petrobaptists: "Groups of turbaned Pure-Heart Brethren Sufis might twirl past, or black-clad Ancients of Days, or clumps of saffron-robed Hare Krishnas, tinkling and chanting, attracting jeers and rotting vegetation from the bystanders. The Lion Isaiahists and the Wolf Isaiahists both preached on street corners, battling when they met: they were at odds over whether it was the lion or the wolf that would lie down with the lamb once the Peaceable Kingdom had arrived. When there were scuffles, the pleebrat gangs -- the brown Tex-Mexes, the pallid Lintheads, the yellow Asian Fusions, the Blackened Redfish -- would swarm the fallen, rooting through their draperies for anything valuable, or even just portable." As it happens, the HelthWyzer biogeneticists have partially solved the Isaiahist schism by creating the libam -- half lion, half lamb -- as well as other creatures such as the rakunk (rat and skunk) and the strangely intelligent and bloodthirsty pigoons. HelthWyzer also regularly experiments on the unsuspecting population with new drugs, such as the super-sex pill BlyssPlus. Little wonder that one religious group, the pacifist vegetarian Gardeners, has long foretold the coming of a Waterless Flood that will cleanse this sordid and polluted Earth. Against this day, the Gardeners have stockpiled food and supplies. But the cataclysm proves more terrible than expected. When "The Year of the Flood" opens, it appears that only two people have survived a deadly pandemic: the 30-something Toby, who is holed up in the AnooYou spa surrounded by marauding pigoons, and Ren, a befeathered trapeze artist at Scales and Tails, who has been locked up in a sealed quarantine area dubbed the Sticky Zone. In alternating sections, the novel traces how these two came to be where they are. Toby's story is told in the third person, Ren's in the first. Years before, the Gardeners rescued Toby from sexual slavery to Blanco, the manager of a SecretBurger who preys on his female employees. The Gardeners hide her from the Bloat -- as he is called -- on the roof of a rundown apartment building, where they cultivate vegetables, herbs and bees. As their leader, Adam One, explains, they are left alone by the CorpSeCorps because "they view us as twisted fanatics who combine food extremism with bad fashion sense and a puritanical attitude towards shopping. But we own nothing they want, so we don't qualify as terrorists. Sleep easier, dear Toby. You're guarded by angels." While with the Gardeners, Toby meets Ren, the young daughter of Lucerne, the runaway wife of a HelthWyzer scientist, who has hooked up with the easygoing Zeb, half biker, half eco-terrorist. In fact, Zeb is the secular arm of the Gardeners, skilled in urban warfare and all the secret ways of the Exfernal World. Still, Toby lives in mortal fear of the Bloat. If the tattooed sadist finds her, she knows her fate will be far worse than a fate worse than death -- or even than death itself. Meanwhile, little Ren grows up in the Garden, where nearly every day seems to honor some iconic environmentalist or green pioneer. These include Saint Jacques Cousteau, Saint Rachel Carson, Saint Karen Silkwood and Saint Dian Fossey. Adam One usually preaches a homily on their feast days, and Atwood beautifully captures his stately yet slightly pompous and sometimes unconsciously comic style. Of Saint Euell Gibbons, we learn that "he sang the virtues of the wild Onion, of the wild Asparagus, of the wild Garlic, that toil not, neither do they spin, nor do they have pesticides sprayed upon them, if they happily grow far enough away from agribusiness crops." Following each sermon, the Gardeners sing a hymn, and Atwood includes these as well; they often sound like a mix of Isaac Watts and Edward Lear. Here's a quatrain from "Oh Lord, You Know Our Foolishness": We fall into despondency, And curse the hour that bore us; We either claim You don't exist, Or else that You ignore us. For Ren, life in the Garden is the only childhood she knows -- until she meets the pleebrat Amanda, who becomes her best friend. Though hardly out of childhood, Amanda has already learned to trade her body for what she needs, knows how to slice a man's throat with a piece of glass, and is as cynical as Marlene Dietrich in "The Blue Angel." Love, she tells Ren, "was useless, because it led you into dumb exchanges in which you gave too much away, and then you got bitter and mean." As dismal as it is, this future often seems little different from today. Pleebrats still have cellphones and hang out in malls and play computer games like Barbarian Stomp: "Blood and Roses was like Monopoly, only you had to corner the genocide and atrocity market. Extinctathon was a trivia game you played with extinct animals." Kids also go out for Happicappuchinos at the ubiquitous Happicuppa franchises or eat at ChickieNobs. The geeks eventually go on to study bioengineering at Watson-Crick; the losers and artsy types are cattle-carred to Martha Graham Academy, where they take classes in Holistic Healing, Dance Calisthenics and Dramatic Expression. As "The Year of the Flood" advances, Atwood begins to integrate characters and elements from "Oryx and Crake." Don't worry: Those who've read the earlier book will appreciate various small details and ironies, but the new novel stands perfectly well on its own. There are, however, a surprising number of coincidences -- Jimmy, a major character in "Oryx and Crake," keeps cropping up. No matter. By its last half "The Year of the Flood" has turned into a heart-pounding thriller, a desperate Painball game to the death set in an already devastated world. Still, the book regularly undercuts the horrific with touches of comedy -- Ren talks about her work at Scales and Tails as "the daily grind" -- and Atwood superbly captures the voices and attitudes of the serious Adam One, the frivolous Lucerne, the resourceful Toby and the rather simple-minded and fragile Ren. Canada's greatest living novelist undoubtedly knows how to tell a gripping story, as fans of "The Blind Assassin" and "The Handmaid's Tale" already know. But here there's a serious message, too: Look at what we're doing right now to our world, to nature, to ourselves. If this goes on . . .
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

1Toby. Year Twenty-five,  the Year of the Flood.

In the early morning Toby climbs up to the rooftop to watch the sunrise. She uses a mop handle for balance: the elevator stopped working some time ago and the back stairs are slick with damp, so if she slips and topples there won't be anyone to pick her up. As the first heat hits, mist rises from among the swathe of trees between her and the derelict city. The air smells faintly of burning, a smell of caramel and tar and rancid barbecues, and the ashy but greasy smell of a garbage-dump fire after it's been raining. The abandoned towers in the distance are like the coral of an ancient reef--bleached and colourless, devoid of life. There still is life, however. Birds chirp; sparrows, they must be. Their small voices are clear and sharp, nails on glass: there's no longer any sound of traffic to drown them out. Do they notice that quietness, the absence of motors? If so, are they happier? Toby has no idea. Unlike some of the other Gardeners--the more wild-eyed or possibly overdosed ones--she has never been under the illusion that she can converse with birds. The sun brightens in the east, reddening the blue-grey haze that marks the distant ocean. The vultures roosting on hydro poles fan out their wings to dry them, opening themselves like black umbrellas. One and then another lifts off on the thermals and spirals upwards. If they plummet suddenly, it means they've spotted carrion. Vultures are our friends, the Gardeners used to teach. They purify the earth. They are God's necessary dark Angels of bodily dissolution. Imagine how terrible it would be if there were no death!Do I still believe this? Toby wonders. Everything is different up close.

The rooftop has some planters, their ornamental running wild; it has a few fake-wood benches. It used to have a sun canopy for cocktail hour, but that's been blown away. Toby sits on one of the benches to survey the grounds. She lifts her binoculars, scanning from left to right. The driveway, with its lumirose borders, untidy now as as frayed hairbrushes, their purple glow fading in the strengthening light. The western entrance, done in pink adobe-style solarskin, the snarl of tangled cars outside the gate. The flowerbeds, choked with sow thistle and burdock, enormous aqua kudzu moths fluttering above them. The fountains, their scallop-shell basins filled with stagnant rainwater. The parking lot with a pink golf cart and two pink AnooYoo minibuses, each with its winking-eye logo. There's a fourth minibus further along the drive, crashed into a tree: there used to be an arm hanging out of the window, but it's gone now.The wide lawns have grown up, tall weeds. There are low irregular mounds beneath the milkweed and fleabane and sorrel, with here and there a swatch of fabric, a glint of bone. That's where the people fell, the ones who'd been running or staggering across the lawn. Toby had watched from the roof, crouched behind one of the planters, but she hadn't watched for long. Some of those people had called for help, as if they'd known she was there. But how could she have helped? The swimming pool has a mottled blanket of algae. Already there are frogs. The herons and the egrets and the peagrets hunt them, at the shallow end. For a while Toby tried to scoop out the small animals that had blundered in and drowned. The luminous green rabbits, the rats, the rakunks, with their striped tails and racoon bandit masks. But now she leaves them alone. Maybe they'll attract fish, somehow.Is she thinking of eating these future fish? Surely not. Surely not yet.She turns to the dark encircling wall of trees and vines and fronds and shrubby undergrowth, probing it with her binoculars. It's surely from there that any danger might come. But what kind of danger? She can't imagine.

In the night there are the usual noises: the faraway barking of dogs, the tittering of mice, the water-pipe notes of the crickets, the occasional grumph of a frog. The blood rushing in her ears: katoush, katoush, katoush. A heavy broom sweeping dry leaves. "Go to sleep," she says out loud. But she never sleeps well, not since she's been alone in this building. Sometimes she hears voices--human voices, calling to her in pain. Or the voices of women, the women who used to work here, the anxious women who used to come, for rest and rejuvenation. Splashing in the pool, strolling on the lawns. All the pink voices, soothed and soothing. Or the voices of the Gardeners, murmuring or singing; or the children laughing together, up on the Edencliff Garden. Adam One, and Nuala, and Burt. Old Pilar, surrounded by her bees. And Zeb. If any one of them is still alive, it must be Zeb. Surely is he on his way, any day now he'll come walking along the roadway or appear from among the trees. But he must be dead by now. It's better to think so. Not to waste hope.There must be someone else left, though; she can't be the only one on the planet. There must be others. But friends or foes? If she sees one, how to tell? She's prepared. The doors are locked, the windows barred. But even such barriers are no guarantee: every hollow space invites invasion. Even when she sleeps, she's listening, as animals do--for a break in the pattern, for an unknown sound, for a silence opening like a crack in rock. When the small creatures hush their singing, said Adam One, it's because they're afraid. You must listen for the sound of their fear.

2Ren. Year Twenty-five, the year of the Flood.

Beware of words. Be careful what you write. Leave no trails.This is what the Gardeners taught us, when I was a child among them. They taught us to depend on memory, because nothing written down could be relied on. The Spirit travels from mouth to mouth, not from thing to thing: books could be burnt, paper crumble away, computers could be destroyed. Only the Spirit lives forever, and the Spirit isn't a thing. As for writing, it was dangerous, said the Adams and the Eves, because your enemies could trace you through it, and hunt you down, and use your words to condemn you.But now that the Waterless Flood has swept over us, any writing I might do is safe enough, because those who might have used it against me are surely dead. So I can write down anything I want. What I write is my name, Ren, with an eyebrow pencil, on the wall beside the mirror. I've written it a lot of times. Renrenren, like a song. You can forget who you are if you're alone too much. Amanda told me that. I can't see out the window, it's glass brick. I can't get out the door, it's locked on the outside. I still have air though, and water, as long as the solar doesn't quit. I still have food. I'm lucky. I'm really very lucky. Count your luck, Amanda used to say. So I do. First, I was lucky to be working here at Scales when the Flood hit. Second, it was even luckier that I was shut up this way in the Sticky Zone, because it kept me safe. I got a rip in my Biofilm Bodyglove--a client got carried away and bit me, right through the green sequins and I was waiting for my test results. It wasn't a wet rip with secretions and membranes involved, it was a dry rip near the elbow, so I wasn't that worried. Still, they checked everything, here at Scales. They had a reputation to keep up: we were known as the cleanest dirty girls in town. Scales took care of you, they really did. If you were talent, that is. Good food, a doctor if you needed one, and the tips were great, because the men from the top Corps came here. It was well run, though it was in a seedy area--all the clubs were. That was a matter of image, Mordis would say: seedy was good for business, because unless there's an edge--something lurid or tawdry, a whiff of sleaze--what separated our brand from the run-of-the-mill product the guy could get at home, with the face cream and the white cotton panties? Mordis believed in plain speaking. He'd been in the business ever since he was a kid, and when they outlawed the pimps and the street trade--for public health and the safety of women, they said--and rolled everything into SeksMart under CorpSeCorps control, Mordis made the jump, because of his experience. "It's who you know," he used to say. "And what you know about them." Then he'd grin, and pat you on the bum--just a friendly pat though, he never took freebies from us. He had ethics.He was a wiry guy with a shaved head and black, shiny, alert eyes like the heads of ants, and he was easy as long as everything was cool. But he'd stand up for us if the clients got violent. "Nobody hurts my best girls," he'd say. It was a point of honour with him. Also he didn't like waste: we were a valuable asset, he'd say. The cream of the crop. After the SeksMart roll-in, anyone left outside the system was not only illegal but pathetic. A few wrecked, diseased old women wandering the alleyways, practically begging. No man with even a fraction of his brain left would go anywhere near them. "Hazardous waste," we Scales girls used to call them. We shouldn't have been so scornful; we should have had compassion. But compassion takes work, and we were young.

That night when the Waterless Flood began, I was waiting for my test results: they kept you locked in the Sticky Zone for weeks, in case you had something contagious. The food came in through the safety-sealed hatchway, plus there was the mini-fridge with snacks, and the water was filtered, coming in and out both. You had everything you needed, but it got boring in there. You could exercise on the machines, and I did a lot of that, because a trapeze dancer needs to keep in practice. You could watch TV or old movies, play your music, talk on the phone. Or you could visit the other rooms in Scales on the intercom video. Sometimes when we doing plank work we'd wink at the cameras in mid-moan for the benefit of whoever was stuck in the Sticky Zone. We knew where the cameras were hidden, in the snakeskin or featherwork on the ceilings. It was one big family, at Scales, so even when you were in the Sticky Zone, Mordis liked you to feel you were still participating.Mordis made me feel so secure. I knew if I was in big trouble I could go to him. There were only a few p...

From AudioFile

Twenty minutes of patience rewards listeners with hours of a thought-provoking story in Atwood's latest. The production starts slowly with an engrossing narrative that shifts back and forth between the before and after of a "waterless flood" that nearly destroyed humankind. Members of the "Gardener" faction pursue a pacifistic, environmentally friendly lifestyle in a world owned by monolithic corporations and consumed by random violence. As the Gardeners' leader, narrator Mark Bramhall delivers sermons followed by performances of the group's songs. Bernadette Dunn and Katie MacNichol each voice survivors with just the right amount of authenticity. The depiction of futuristic social changes alongside contemporary phenomena like text messaging and cosmetic surgery make the horrors of Atwood's future all the more immediate. L.B.F. © AudioFile 2009, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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