The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood, Nan A Talese, 2009, 431 pp
The long-awaited companion novel to Oryx and Crake is also brilliant but in a different way. The story in Atwood's new novel occurs simultaneously with the Oryx and Crake tale, taking place out in the "Plebelands", where the destruction wrought by Helth-Wyzer and the other industrial/scientific compounds impacts the regular people of the world.
No matter what many reviewers have said, it is almost imperative to have read Oryx and Crake first. In the earlier book, a dangerous virus, embedded in the BlyssPluss "harmless" sex pill has caused a worldwide plague, known in the new book as the Waterless Flood. As in the Bible, most of mankind has been wiped out. The remains are a few humans who miraculously escaped infection; the bio-engineered animals (rakunk, liobam, wolvogs, and those frightful pigs implanted with human brain tissue); and Crake's ultimate creation, the immortal and naked Children of Crake.
The Year of the Flood story is anchored by the God's Gardeners sect, a religious group dedicated to living green and preserving life. Atwood has created an entire religion complete with hymns and sermons delivered by Adam One, the group's leader. Ren, a high-end sex worker, and Toby, a former God's Gardener, are the main characters, both with former connections to Jimmy and Crake.
So you get the whole story again from a new perspective which fills in many curious omissions in the first book. As I said, brilliant, because now you see in detail the horrendous consequences of Crake's madness. Also brilliant in a way unique to Atwood, because while Oryx and Crake has a distinct masculine tone, The Year of the Flood is feminine and feminist. The women save the day. Through strength, bravery, intelligence and heart, these women extract whatever hope can be found for a possible future.
Atwood claims that these books are just stories. That's a bit ingenious. Speculative fiction often begins with the premise: what if we keep going the way we are? Our future may not include a waterless flood, but it is bound to be unpleasant in some way. It may very well depend on some of us paying attention, preserving useful knowledge and having some sense of spiritual or moral vision.
(The Year of the Flood is available on the shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)