In Margaret Atwood's three compelling and quite different visions of an apocalyptic future, some things never change. There are always the powerful corporations intent on obtaining profit from every human desire: the Soul Scrolls of "The Handmaid's Tale," which turn prayer into a commodity; the Secretburger franchises of "The Year of the Flood," which dispense cheap burgers of dubious provenance. The environment is always degraded, resulting in a precipitous drop in the birth rate ("The Handmaid's Tale") and the terrifying daily thunderstorms of "The Year of the Flood." In all three stories, there is an Orwellian social structure: a tiny elite intent both on holding power at all costs and on a comfortable, even luxurious, life style; a larger group of terrified, obedient mid-level party/corporate functionaries; and a vast underclass that lives in squalor and in violence---the "pleeblands" of her newest novel. And, most important to all three dystopias, there are cold, brutal men with the most up to date weapons "who make sure--successfully, until the global pandemics in both "Oryx and Crake" and "The Year of the Flood" nearly destroy the human race-- that everyone is terrorized and that power remains with the corporate elites.
Thus, it's quite amazing that her newest dystopia is so different, so inventive, and so convincing, even though elements of "The Year of the Flood" overlap with those in "Oryx and Crake" and the novels are set in parallel, time-wise, with a male protagonist in "Oryx" and two female protagonists, Toby and Ren, in "Flood." Completely original and central to "Flood" is the made-up religion (complete with made-up hymns) of Gods Gardeners, led by its fatherly chief composter, sermonizer, and philosopher, Adam One. He's a wonderful pastiche, equally earnest and ridiculous--straight out of the pages of "Mother Earth News." The characterizations of the rest of the Gardeners, the numbered Adams and Eves, are equally tender, as they tend their bees and mushrooms and the rooftop garden and patiently store away supplies in hidden "Ararats" for the calamity they know is coming. Unlike Orwell's degraded masses, these proles are full of hope. Don't miss this newest Atwood. She can put a plot together better than just about anyone, and the coalescing threads of this one kept me reading until midnight as the world came to an------well, not exactly, and not in the way you might think. Apocalypse, as constructed by Atwood, is never predictable, always astonishing, and certainly not impossible.