Year of the Voice: First, Second, Third

Margaret Atwood’s “Year of the Flood” is a typical economic dystopian novel about a not too distance future in which the world has been divided into two distinct socioeconomic classes, and the few remaining inhabitants are recovering from a deadly manufactured bio-pandemic referenced as “The Waterless Flood.” The Waterless Flood consumed the world “not as a vast hurricane, not as a barrage of comets, not as a cloud of poisonous gasses. No: it is a plague-a plague that infects no Species but our own” (Atwood p. 424). This plague was released against the public through bioengineering (many speculate that the HIV/AIDS virus was developed with the same intent) and its delivery method was just as sinister: they “put it in the supersex pill” (Atwood p. 395), this clearly denotes the lower-income class and socially undesirables were the targets as it was first released in the Sex District. Corporate Juggernauts like “HelthWyzer” and “CorpSeCorps” have consolidated their power and influence together, while depleting the world’s natural resources. As the world careens into further despair and the people on the bottom of the economic scale begin to fight against the corporate rule, the Corporations ban together and adopt the ideology “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” That is to say, though in financial competition with one another, the rouge legions of militant groups like “God’s Gardeners,” (a theological group’s perspective threaded throughout the novel; much like Octavia Butler’s “Earthseed” from “Parable of the Sower”) are more of a burden to the corporations: enter “CorpSeCorps” and their “CorpSeMen.” CorpSeCorps is a totalitarian governmental force that “started as a private security firm for the Corporations, but then they’d taken over when local police forces collapsed for lack of funding” (Atwood p. 25), and their tactics are reminiscent of Hitler. The plot to “Year of the Flood” is richly developed yet simple and familiar in the genre of sci-fi/cli-fi writing, but what sets Atwood’s novel apart from the rest is its intricate structural design of what can be described as a pyramid triple narrative.

Most readers will only see “Year of the Flood” as a double narrative told from the perspectives of the two main protagonists, Toby/Tobiatha (her story is told from the third-person narrative) and Ren (her story is told from the first-person narrative); however, AdamOne’s voice in his sermons does not read neither first nor third person, but actually second-person narration. For instance, when AdamOne says “Dear Friends, dear Faithful Companions our Edencliff Rooftop Garden blooms now only in our memories. We are driven from one refuge to another, we are hounded and pursued” (Atwood p. 311). AdamOne’s subjective and possessive form use of personal-pronouns “we” and “our” interpretively can be read as the second-person. In second-person narrative the narrator is telling “you” (the reader) what “you” are doing, thinking, or feeling; arguably, AdamOne is doing the same by using the inclusive form of the personal-pronouns. AdamOne’s contextual use of the words are not the same as Ren’s first-person meaning, there is a difference. When readers see Ren use these words it is inclusive of herself and the other characters she is telling the readers about; on the other hand, when AdamOne uses these words it is as if he is bringing readers into the story; the reader becomes his “Dear Friend” his “dear Faithful Companion,” a brilliant literary technique implored by Atwood to bridge a deeper connection between the writing and the reader. More than bridging an emotional connection between readers and the novel, the triple narrative is the framework for the pyramid structure.

Unlike a triangle where two opposite points meet at a conjoining vector of interest, a pyramid has the same basic design, but its structure is a complex layer of building blocks leading to the point of interest, like Atwood’s “Year of the Flood.” On one end of the spectrum is Toby on the other Ren, though walking different paths Toby’s and Ren’s lives will intersect at the peak position of AdamOne and “God’s Gardeners.” The new theological belief system called “God’s Gardeners” fosters around what can accurately be described as a type of vegetarian extremism; the motto of this new religion is “God’s Gardeners for God’s Garden! Don’t Eat Death! Animals R Us…Spare your fellow Creatures! Do not eat anything with a face! Do not kill your own Soul!” (Atwood p. 39-40). This theological concept and its minister AdamOne are the meeting point of interest for Toby and Ren atop the pyramid. At the core, this structure delineates the fall of man: “the Fall of Man was multidimensional. The ancestral primates fell out of the trees; then they fell from vegetarianism into meat-eating. Then they fell from instinct into reason, and thus into technology” (Atwood p. 188). Atwood continues to build the structural integrity of the pyramid as “‘The fear of you’—that is, Man—‘and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air…into your hand are they delivered.’ Genesis 9:2. This is not God telling Man that he has a right to destroy all the Animals, as some claim. Instead it is a warning to God’s beloved Creatures: Beware of Man, and his evil heart” (Atwood p. 90-91). The preceding symbolizes Man’s hubris for advancement as the reason for the world’s destruction. As the blocks reach their peak, many species in Atwood’s world have become extinct because the environment has eroded. In their place, the Corporations have bioengineered new species culminating to the climatic discovery that the Corporations were seeking to bio-manufacture the perfect homosapiens, “Project Paradice.” Paradice Project was about “changing [human] cells so they’d never die; people would pay a lot for immortality. ‘What would you pay for the design of a perfect human being?’ The Paradice Project was designing one” (Atwood p. 305). It is the manufacturing of humans that leads to the completion of the pyramid, and the justification of “God’s Gardeners” linking Toby’s and Ren’s narrative as a whole. Ironically, the bioengineering of plants and animals (including humans) is the novel’s cognitive link to climate-change: sustainability of the world’s food supply through technological bio-advancements.

Succinctly, environmental sustainability involves protecting the natural world, with particular focus on preserving the Earth’s capability to support human life in the future. The correlational link this novel has to climate change is Sustainability: “sustenance is what sustains a person’s body. It’s food. Food! Where does food come from? All food comes from the Earth” (Atwood p. 149). With this in mind, food is the most key resource with direct sensitivities to climate-change; a timespan of too little or too much rain accumulation/precipitation, a fluctuation between hot and cold seasonal weather (when winter turns into spring, and summer turns into fall), or inclement weather patterns like severe flooding and/or hurricane storm systems, can have a significant effect on local crop yields and livestock production. According to an article published in The Guardian “the impact of recent droughts in the USA, China and Russia on global cereal production highlight a glaring potential future vulnerability” (Ranger p.1). The aforementioned quote highlights the adverse effects increasingly warm temperatures will have on the world’s food supply, which is most noteworthy given that Atwood’s novel clearly places her characters in a climate setting assuredly effected by global warming and extreme temperatures of heat. Characters are described as having to wear body coverings “in the sunlight, which is hotter by the minute” (Atwood p. 384), to protect their skin from sun damage and the harmful ultraviolet rays: “pink top-to-toes, for when the sun gets too high” (Atwood p. 365), like when “the sun’s at ten. They put on their top-to-toes and Toby smears their faces with more SolarNix, then sprays them again with SuperD” (Atwood p. 367). The heat of Atwood’s world is miserable with no escape: “it is shadier under the tress, but not cooler. It’s dank, and there’s no breeze, and the air is thick, as if it has more air stuffed into it than other air does” (Atwood p. 375). Attempting to condense the overall effects climate-change will have on the world’s food supply is complex because there are several variables that must be taken into consideration.

Some factors to consider are nutrient levels, soil moisture, water availability, changes in the weather frequency concerning rainfall and droughts are some of the challenges for farmers and ranchers. Global warming temperatures and carbon dioxide (CO2) increases are beneficial for some crops in some places, and deadly for others. Moreover, warmer water temperatures are likely to cause the habitat ranges of many fish and shellfish species to shift, which could disrupt ecosystems. Universally, climate change could make it more difficult to grow crops, raise animals, and catch fish in the same ways and same places as done in the past and present. The effects of climate change also need to be considered along with other evolving factors that affect agricultural production, such as changes in farming practices and technology. The three major food industries that will be affected are Crop production, Livestock reproduction, and Fisheries.

Crop Production:
Warmer temperatures will yield a positive effect on a great number of crops by promoting faster growth periods; conversely, these same warmer climates will reduce yields on other vegetation. It is important to note that faster growth times are not necessarily a total positive; for instance, in the case of grains “faster growth reduces the amount of time that seeds have to grow and mature. This can reduce yields (the amount of crop produced from a given amount of land)” (EPA p. 1). Most important to understand in agriculture, pertaining to any crop, is that the effect of warmer climates will depend on the crop’s “optimal temperature” for growth and seed reproduction, and if climate temperatures warm beyond a crops optimal temperature yields will decline.

Livestock:
Warmer temperatures will induce heat stress making animals more prone to “disease, reduce fertility, and reduce milk production” (EPA p. 2). Drought will effect pastures used for grazing and feed supplies, and “may increase the prevalence of parasites and diseases that affect livestock” (EPA p. 2). Increases in atmospheric CO2 may expedite the growth rate of planets that livestock use for consumption providing more food, sounds good, now comes the question of quantity or quality. According to the EPA “studies indicate that the quality of some of the forage found in pasturelands decreases with higher CO2. As a result, cattle would need to eat more to get the same nutritional benefits” (p. 2). Eventually, all consumable animal protein will become diseased and extinct.

Fisheries:
Several species of marine life have temperature specific ranges for which they can thrive. Take the cod of North Atlantic, they “require water temperatures below 54°F. Even sea-bottom temperatures above 47°F can reduce their ability to reproduce and for young cod to survive. In this century, temperatures in the region will likely exceed both thresholds” (EPA p.3). Migration of schools is not as easy an option as some may realize; moving into new regions will create competition between the species over food and other resources. Some diseases that affect marine life have the potential to become more dominant in warmer tempered water. In addition to oceanic climate changes, increases in temperature have caused the acidic levels to rise due to surges in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). According to the EPA “acidification may also threaten the structures of sensitive ecosystems upon which some fish and shellfish rely” (EPA p. 3). Again, all consumable marine protein will become diseased and extinct.

Given these facts Atwood presents a scenario that present day scientists and biologists are working on to counter this potential food shortage, creating genetically modified plant and animal species that will be able to better endure, survive, and sustain the changing climate. From Atwood’s novel these include the “rakunk,” a cross between a raccoon and a skunk; the “mo’hair,” a sheep with human hair in colors such as silver, blue, and purple; and the “pigoon,” a pig with human brain tissue. The most alarming animal, the liobam, was created by a religious extremist group: a cross between a lion and a lamb, gentle-looking but deadly. Atwood’s fictional claim is not too farfetched as a paper published in the Journal of “Ethics, Policy and Environment” suggests successions of biomedical alterations that could be used in the physiological development of human beings to help them consume less making them more suitable to sustain in the changing food climate. Some of the biological modifications are “pharmacological meat intolerance” (Liao, Sandberg, & Roache p.5) and “making humans smaller” (Liao, et. al. p. 7). The paper suggest that individuals that have an affinity to meat flavors, and want to give it up for ecological reasons, but may lack the necessary willpower to resist on their own could take a pill that would induce mild to severe nausea upon ingestion of meat, which could lead to a lasting aversion to all meat products. Moreover, “meat intolerance is normally uncommon, in principle, it could be induced by stimulating the immune system against common bovine proteins” (Liao, et. al. p. 6); basically, someone can be programmed to distaste meat flavors. Another Frankenstein type of treatment suggested by the authors is genetically modifying humans to be smaller is stature with the logic that smaller humans consume less. There are two ways to accomplish making humans smaller: (1) using “preimplantation genetic diagnosis. It simply involve[s] rethinking the criteria for selecting which embryos to implant” (Liao, et. al. p. 8); (2) using “hormone treatment either to affect somatotropin levels or to trigger the closing of the epiphyseal plate earlier than normal (this sometimes occurs accidentally through vitamin A overdoses” (Liao, et. al. p 8). However, instead of trying to change the physiology of plants and animals, would it not make more sense just to stop overusing the Earth’s resources: “God’s commandment to ‘replenish the Earth’ did not mean we should fill it to overflowing with ourselves, thus wiping out everything else” (Atwood p. 53). The big extraction companies just need to stop, what has been pulled from the Earth is more than enough to compensate for current and future use there is no need to go down the mad science track.

Margaret Atwood’s “Year of the Flood” is a tremendously, highly, recommended controversial book that puts Earth’s over consumption problems at the feet of the major perpetrators, the 1% big business companies, while calling to action individuals to fight now and stop asking “what can I do, am only one person?” This novel evokes individuals to stand: “We must be a beacon of hope, because if you tell people there’s nothing they can do, they will do worse than nothing” (Atwood p. 248). What’s worse than nothing? Sitting idly by and watching the world decay.

 

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. New York: Randon House, Inc, 2009. 1-431. Print.

EPA .Agriculture and Food Supply. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2015. <http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/agriculture.html>.

Liao, Matthew S., Anders Sandberg, and Rebecca Roache. “Human Engineering and Climate Change.” Ethics, Policy and the Environment (2012): 1-29. Print.

Ranger, Nicola. The Guardian. N.p., 19 Sept. 2012. Web. 11 Mar. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/sep/19/climate-change-affect-food-production>.

The Anti-Bond

I’m not necessarily convinced that reading the blurbs on the inside of a book’s dust cover is a valuable use of your time, but I did find myself reading the blurb for Hurricane Fever, and in the first paragraph the copy writer says that “Roo is an anti-James Bond for a new generation.” I think that’s a useful idea, and it’s stuck with me, because most of how I feel about the book can kind of be revolved around that idea. I mean, in theory Hurricane Fever is a novel I should like a good deal: it’s an action-packed genre piece with thoughtful worldbuilding, a meaningful engagement with real-world issues, and a responsible approach to the social problems endemic to its source material. Even so, actually reading the book I never really managed to feel much more for it than “yeah, it’s okay.” There’s something about it that isn’t quite there, and the novel sometimes feels on-the-nose and easy in a way that just isn’t quite satisfying. Continue reading “The Anti-Bond”

There’s a Hurricane Fever going around and you’d better get used to it

Hurricane Fever is unlike any of the other books that we read this semester. While it has some ties to a number of the other more complex cli-fi books we have read, it is largely a crime novel that focuses on storytelling. My first thought when I started reading the first chapter was that it reminded somewhat of the classic noir crime novels from the 1930’s and 1940’s that revolve around the Sam Spade or James Bond type. It had some of the same dark and gritty qualities that dominate books like Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon. The aspect that makes these types of novels so gripping is the raw realism and frightening plausibility of the world created by the authors. There is typically nothing particularly deep or intellectual about these types of books, but the storytelling is always attention grabbing. In Hurricane Fever, we follow a retired agent from the Caribbean Intelligence Group who is trying to live a simple life on the waters of the Caribbean so he can raise his orphaned nephew. Much like other books or movies following an agent who tries to retire, the protagonist is in someway or another forced out of retirement to do one last job. In this case, Roo needs to get revenge on the hatchet men/terrorists who murdered his teenage nephew and are trying to start a second black plague. Somehow, however, amongst all the murder, torture, blood and guts the most terrifying part of this book remains the issue of climate change and increased natural disasters.

In this book, climate change was the foundation of the story that is Hurricane Fever, and the focal point is the well-formed plotline and story that follows Roo. But for the sake of this review, seeing as it is the last one I will write for this class, I find myself needing to focus on the climate aspect of the book. This may be due to my personal interests and concerns about climate change, but in my mind while reading this book, the idea of increased climate related natural disasters never left my mind. The implications of this kind of world are horrifying to me and they should be for everyone. Hurricane Fever shows us a world where the domino effect of climate change has ramped up to the point where massive hurricanes are regular occurrences. This is perhaps the most frightening part of climate change that many people do not fully understand or terrifyingly enough choose to ignore, and that is the fact that if we do not curb our increasing use of fossil fuels, natural disasters will become more prevalent and more severe. As we release more carbon into the atmosphere and the temperature of the ocean rises steadily, we will absolutely begin to see more hurricanes because they feed off of warmer water temperatures. The world that Roo lives in may not be something that only appears in fiction novels in the near future. If you look at recent disasters such as the tsunami that hit the Philippines in 2009, you can see that many nations simply do not have the resources necessary to recover from such an event. The Philippines are not a wealthy nation, so can you imagine what would happen to a country such as this if tsunamis started to hit once or twice a year? Even here in America, the wealthiest nation in the world, we are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, a natural disaster that struck 10 years ago. It is a simple fact that we as humans do not have the capability or the money to deal with such an increase in natural disasters. As humans we truly need to grasp the gravity of the situation at hand, which is that if we do not change our behavior, we may push the world’s climate to a point where humans can no longer survive.

This concept can be overwhelming to some and hard to comprehend, and I found an article that I attached below that I think effectively describes how this pattern works. One of the most eye opening segments is the statistic on the number of hurricanes, tsunamis, draughts, and typhoons that happen during a year and how much they have increased. “According to the EM-DAT, the total natural disasters reported each year has been steadily increasing in recent decades, from 78 in 1970 to 348 in 2004.” The thing about this pattern is that it starts off increasing steadily and then begins to increase exponentially, so in another 30 years one can only imagine how prevalent they will be. I definitely appreciate that books such as Hurricane Fever bring this issue to light. When scientists describe this process, it is easy to get lost in all the numbers and facts, but when an author who has the skill of vivid and artful storytelling it makes it easier for people to wrap their minds around. And in the end this is exactly what the world needs: widespread understanding of the issues we face as a species.

 

http://www.livescience.com/414-scientists-natural-disasters-common.html

http://lareviewofbooks.org/review/shock-new-normal/

I’ve Got A Fever, and the Only Prescription is More Hurricanes

Here we are, we made it, and this is it, the final book of the semester. All things considered, Hurricane Fever may have been saved best for last. I’ve had my ups and downs with many of the books that we’ve read this semester, so it was really nice and refreshing to read a fast paced thriller as our final book. The book follows Roo, an ex-spy living an average day to day life in the Caribbean taking care of his nephew, when he’s plunged into the mystery of the murder of one of his former colleagues.

The primary thing this book did well, is similarly the thing I thought worked so well about Snowpiercer. It is not using Climate Change as primary source of forward momentum for the novel. The book has its own story to tell completely independent of the looming threat of climate change constantly hanging over the entire book like a storm cloud. In this case literally a storm cloud. Cli Fi as a narrative device, in my opinion, works better as a factor working outside the plot as opposed to the force driving it. I think when used thusly it is able to more succinctly get the message of climate change out there, and it does it with subtlety rather than beating us over the head with the never ending threat of planetary destruction. It normalizes it as a concept, and as something that is happening, while also making it something that should be concerning. However, I’m off on a tangent, back to the book itself.

I found Hurricane Fever to be very engaging. I liked how quickly the plot zipped along, I found myself unable to put it down most of the time. Roo was a very interesting character to follow, even if he and the story do fall into some typical clichés common in stories like these (the retired spy being pulled back into the game and things of that ilk). However, I would not consider that a point against the book, it’s something that befalls most writers, and it’s a book that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. It’s not trying to be the Great American Novel, and nor should it, it’s a fun action spy thriller and I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys the genre reading it and not finding something worth liking about it.

Hurricane Fever: Action, Sci-fi, or Just Plain Pulp

After reading a lot of really difficult works in this class, it was refreshing to sort of take a breather with Hurricane Fever. I feel like this is one of those books that you would see people reading at the beach or on their porches when they’re just trying to enjoy a lazy kind of day and escape from the real world. That being said, there is more to this book than just a quick adventure in the Caribbean. Tobias Buckell has infused themes of race, climate change, and corporate deceit into a book that could have ultimately winded up being all too easy.

Nisi Shawl’s article brings up two classic spy characters in her write up, Ian Fleming’s James Bond and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne. One of the major similarities between these two is their being white. In Hurricane Fever and Buckell’s previous work, the main protagonists are black. This makes me wish that these would be made into movies because it would be really cool to see a spy series featuring black characters, which this day in age shouldn’t even be an issue. Buckell also uses preconceived notions about race well in his book, like when the hotel patron hands her towel to Roo thinking that he works for the hotel. Instead of losing his cool, however, Roo uses it to his advantage which shows that he isn’t just level headed and calm, but also takes advantage of every situation.

What’s also surprising about this book that I can’t really say about a lot of the other stuff we’ve read this semester is just how subtle it is. Maybe I’m just a little bit more than clueless, but I had no problem believing that the sunken islands in the story were actually sunk in real life. The best kind of fiction is fiction that makes us believe in what we’re reading, otherwise we’re reading an outlandish story that probably may not even be worth the paper that it’s printed on. I loved The Year of the Flood for creating a future world that shouldn’t exist, but may actually one day. Hurricane Fever did the same thing. It created a world that isn’t exactly like ours, but may mirror the world we will live in within the next decade or so. All of this is done without Buckell lecturing or providing us with tedious facts that really only seem to exist to make the book longer. I’m looking at you Climate Changed

I want to step away from what the book is about for a moment and focus on the style that it’s written in. This is the only flaw I can see with this book, but it’s a flaw that was big enough to keep me distracted through some of the reading. First of all, there were times where I didn’t believe in the character of Roo. After Delroy is killed, he sort of shifts into overdrive with his mission for revenge and only brings up his pain a few times during the book. I would’ve like to see Roo in pain more over Delroy to make me really want to see him get his revenge. As it stands, it just wasn’t used enough to really grab my attention, and I just didn’t really care about Delroy all that much to begin with. Also, the writing could be a little choppy at times. This definitely helped move the book along, but I would have liked to see some nice descriptions or just more elaborate. That’s just a matter of taste, however, and not an objective flaw.

Hurricane Fever is more than just an action/spy novel. It explores important themes of climate change and race that gave the novel some backbone. While being smart with its themes, however, it never bogged me down in too much preaching or lecturing. It kept up a quick pace and I’m very thankful for that. I just wish there was a little bit more to the book in terms of description and emotion. Still, it’s definitely worth a quick read and provides an ample amount of information for discussion. It’s certainly one of the more entertaining books we’ve read.

The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood is a novel that brings forth cli-fi, religion, and the ugly truths about prostitution, class and corporations. The novel itself is about a religious group called the gardeners who are aware of an impending “waterless flood” about to take place. The gardeners find peace in living a simple life with no meat, they only wear recycled clothes, and believe in their faith more than anything else. They are founded on the fact that they believe the human race has strayed away from what God originally set out for us, and with the world being run by less than moral corporations that’s not exactly not true. What I really enjoyed most bout this book were the flash backs. It really surprised me that a lot of people found it really hard to follow and even thought that the flashbacks weren’t important to the story. The flashbacks, for me, gave the context for everything that was going on. They explained why things were the way they were at this present moment in time, and even showed us a different side of the characters. One of the most interesting things about the books for me were the elements of prostitution and corporations that seem to go hand in hand with these dystopian societies. The fact that both girls were stuck in opposite sides of the spectrum with one being stuck in a high end day spa while the other is stuck in the “cleaning room” of a strip and prostitute club where the girls would go to get tested for STI’s. I thought it was really interesting how Atwood showed these two sides in great detail and how they definitely relate to the actual struggles that some girls go through today. Maybe not the being stuck in the room parts, but definitely the high class and low class “doing-what-needs-to-be-done” work ethic. What really is different is you’d think it would be Ren who would have this deep hatred for the corporations because she’s in the current situation she’s in but its actually Toby. Toby’s whole entire life has been abandoned because her father shot himself with a rifle…and she couldn’t even report it because the blame of having any firearm at all would fall back on her. So she’s stuck abandoning her entire identity and going underground all for the sake of staying alive. Just when you think things can’t possibly get worse for her, she gets a job and falls under the eye of a her manager who happens to be a sexual predator. He objectifies women and turns them into his own personal sex slave just for the thrill of it. The importance of class is all too relevant when we see how there are definitively two different types of people, those who live in the corporate compounds and those who find refuge in the slums. The corporations run the world like a drug cartel, and if you cross them or get in the way of their agenda you will probably find yourself dead in a ditch somewhere. At the end of the book we can see how Toby starts to see through this, and how she notices that only the few, the privileged are reaping the benefits. Atwood does a great job of bringing in a serious problem into a book that at first glance is just about climate change. I think this book is a lot more than what it looks like on the surface, with so many back stories and other things going on that makes it turn into one cohesive work about many major social problems.

Laughing into the Waterless Flood

In a recent interview with Slate, Margaret Atwood states of fiction, “You have to show people in the midst of change and people coping with change.” In The Year of the Flood, the second book in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, she postulates how mankind will react in preparation for an impending Waterless Flood. The majority of the story revolves around the ecology-based religion of the God’s Gardeners who seem to have accepted mankind’s inevitable fate and are preparing for the Waterless Flood to wash over Earth. In her creation of the God’s Gardeners and her injection of humor into their beliefs and values, Margaret Atwood is able to examine the role of religion in a pre-apocalyptic changing world and simultaneously raise questions about the role of humor in literature.

Initially one might be a bit befuddled by the idea of a religion recognizing man’s devastating impact on the planet. In novels such as Flight Behavior and in real life, many religious people believe that mankind could only be brought to its end by the hand of God, so the idea of anthropogenic climate change wiping out the species seems incredulous. However, Adam One, the leader of the God’s Gardeners in The Year of the Flood addresses this supposed contradiction. He quotes the Word of God from Genesis 8:21 which reads, “I will not again curse the ground anymore for man’s sake.” When God entrusted Noah with “the task of saving the chosen Species,” He made a covenant and relinquished his desire to ever bring humanity to its end (Atwood, 90). The Gardeners, who consider themselves to be a “plural of Noah,” recognize that “any further cursing of the ground would be done, not by God, but by Man himself” (Atwood, 90-91). While it would be facile to view this description of Gardener philosophy simply as a way to account for the aforementioned contradiction, it additionally harkens back to the concept of living “in the midst of change.” As the physical world changes, there is no room for traditional religions such as Christianity. Humanity has been forced to accept its impact on the environment and “can no longer fall into the error of pride by considering ourselves as exceptional” (Atwood, 53). Subsequently, in response to this paradigm shift of accepting mankind’s fate, religion, one of the most obdurate forces in history, is required to adapt its philosophy to fit into the changing world. While they may believe in the same God, the God’s Gardeners’s views are a far cry way from those of the Appalachian Christians in Flight Behavior.

Another way in which religion changes within the world of Year of the Flood is through its views on sainthood. Traditionally in the Catholic Church, those who become saints are men and women who live their entire lives practicing and spreading the Word of God. However, in Atwood’s speculative world, saints are those who lived their entire lives fighting for ecological progress. For instance, the God’s Gardeners deem Silent Spring author Rachel Carson to be a saint for she “dedicated her life to the Feathered Ones” (Atwood, 370). This debasement of the idea of sainthood reflect a larger societal shift in values. Now, pious and zealous religious figures are no longer those valued in society. Instead, the brave souls such as Rachel Carson or Euell Gibbons who fought adamantly for the birds and the trees are the true heroes.

In her initial review in the Telegraph of Year of the Flood, Caroline Moore describes Atwood’s depictions of the Gardeners and their saints as a “serio-comic balance.” Much like the aforementioned Slate interview in which interviewer Ed Finn lauds Atwood’s “deadpan wit and irreverent playfulness,” Moore is recognizing the importance of humor in the deathly serious genre of cli-fi. Atwood is able to look unflinchingly into the eye of the impending Waterless Flood and chuckle. Perhaps what allows Margaret Atwood to laugh even when confronted with the grizzly serious issue of anthropogenic climate change is her self-proclaimed unwavering hope. In the Slate interview, although Atwood admits that she cannot ascertain whether or not humanity will still be around in one hundred years, she states “I think hope is among a number of things that are part of the human toolkit. It’s built in…” Unlike authors such as Phillipe Squarzoni or Naomi Oresekes who scarcely make any room for laughs in their own works of cli-fi (using that term liberally in the case of Climate Changed and The Collapse of Western Civilization), Atwood’s innate hope in humanity allows for The Year of the Flood to be filled with dark humor.

The role of humor in the genre of cli-fi or in relation to climate change in general is a notion which seems to be rarely discussed. In fact, a Google search of the phrase “climate change humor,” results primarily in poorly put together right-wing memes which mock the entire belief in man’s impact on the global climate. So the grand question here is: does the humor work? Can a cli-fi novel take a seriously effective look at mankind’s negative environmental impact and still be incredibly humorous? While some may argue that in order for a novel about an issue as monstrously threatening as climate change to be effective it must be unflinchingly serious, in the case of Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, the dark humor is not only effective in captivating and intriguing the reader, it may very well be the most effective aspect of the entire novel! For instance, one of the most simplistically poignant lines of the entire novel comes in the form of Zeb’s vulgar song, “nobody gives a snot, nobody gives a snot, that is why we’re on the fucking spot, ‘cause nobody gives a snot!” (Atwood, 242). The entire theme of mankind’s ignorance leading to our downfall, which authors such as Barbara Kingsolver or Kim Stanley Robinson have spent hundreds of pages trying to convey in the most eloquent way possible, is reduced to four lines of hilariously blatant “poetry” and it becomes one of the most memorable lines of the entire novel.

Part of the reason why Zeb’s simple song is so effective is because it serves as a stark contrast to the Feast Day songs of the Gardeners from the God’s Gardeners Oral Hymnbook which preface each of Ren or Toby’s narratives. Caroline Moore refers to these Gardener songs as “sonorously bathetic hymns.” These songs themselves are not without humor for they, like Saint Euell or Saint Rachel, are greatly different from what we would expect of a 21st century church. For instance, the image of a choir of Gardener children singing out, “We dangle by a flimsy thread/ Our little lives are grains of sand;/ The Cosmos is a tiny sphere/ Held in the hollow of God’s hand ” is drastically and humorously different from Catholic children singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” in a church today (Atwood, 427). Atwood’s ability to depict a cult-like religion with the framework of Catholicism which actually stresses importance on mankind’s weaknesses and wrongdoings showcases both her cunning wit and her sheer brilliance as an author.

Back to the contrast between Zeb’s songs and the Gardeners’ hymns, Atwood’s hilariously genius comes through in her ability to depict how Zeb is able to create bigger and more radical thoughts in just a few words while the Gardeners struggle to convey anything concrete or palpable in many of their hymns. Furthermore, this contrast between the singing of Zeb and the Gardeners creates a parallel and sets up the larger contrast between their two disparate philosophies. One of the reader’s very first glimpses of Zeb’s character comes though his earliest song, “nobody gives a hoot, and that is why we’re down the chute” (Atwood, 64). At this point, the reader had already been exposed to at least three Gardener hymns and has likely already begun to understand the dryly superfluous and anticlimactic nature of these hymns. Thus, Atwood deploys her cunning humor to establish Zeb’s personality as being dissonant from the collective mindset of the Gardeners. This dissonance later comes to an apex as Zeb breaks away from the crumbling faction of the God’s Gardeners and forms his own sort of sect, MaddAddam. So, Margaret Atwood has used Zeb’s vulgar songs which could easily be glanced over as throw-away lines to nearly single-handedly establish the basis of the entire personality of Zeb’s character and create a major contrast between him and the God’s Gardeners. Ultimately, Atwood’s humor is not only effective for handling the ideas climate change in literature, but also just as masterful story telling technique in general.

As a serious work of climate change fiction, The Year of the Flood is nearly impeccable. While many books in this genre struggle to reach a widespread literary audience, Atwood’s use of dark humor and inventive narrative techniques ensures that her works will not be relegated to the often overlooked “science-fiction” trade paperback racks at Barnes and Noble upon which many works of cli-fi will sit untouched. Margaret Atwood appears to be well aware of the enormity of her audience and the impact that her works could have on not only literature but on society at large. In The Year of the Flood, Atwood exerts her influence as an author and tackles the challenge of anthropogenic climate change with all the force with which it deserves to be tackled. While Atwood’s work of so-called speculative fiction may not be a novel from which a reader can walk away with a myriad of answers of instructions on how to behave, it is a fantastic speculative tale rife with humor which examines how mankind’s imminent realization of the erroneous nature of its ways could reshape the world.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2015/02/margaret_atwood_interview_the_author_speaks_on_hope_science_and_the_future.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/books-life/6167348/The-Year-of-the-Flood-by-Margaret-Atwood-review.html

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. New York: Anchor Books, 2009. Print.

The Year of Religious Immersion

The Year of the Flood is certainly the most immersive book we’ve read so far. I found no issue diving directly into the book and really getting a feel for the deeper ideas and plots immersed within. This book has two really huge themes that I think are worth discussing. The first is religion, and its ability to effect people, and then obviously vegetarianism, and how that will help us to ensure a sustainable future. This will lead into the bigger discussion of how this book relates to the class as a whole, because it very clearly does.

I think that the overarching ship of religion that this story sailed on was fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed the idea of religion being used to convey the major themes and ideas of the book. The religious group in this story is referred to as the “Gardeners”, they are a sect of people who live a very modest life. They are vegetarian because of their belief system, and they also grow almost everything they consume. Their entire policy is about reducing their environmental impact and only using what they need at all times. They get almost all for eh materials they use in their day to day lives from the world around them, and teach this kind of conservationist lifestyle to their children. This lifestyle may seem great and wonderful, but it can certainly have its shortfalls. The main one that I can find is that this society has completely eliminated meat. This is a major issue nutritionally for any society that wishes to not only survive but also to prosper. A vegetarian diet can be incredibly nutritious, but there are certain vitamins and minerals that one simply cannot get from fruits and vegetables alone. There are visible signs of the malnutrition of the Gardeners in their descriptions. The only one who is ever described as anything other than thin is Zeb, and that is because he eats meat on the side. I would imagine that him introducing meat into his diet is what has allowed him to be so strong in the first place. I only know so much about the negative impacts of not eating meat at all because of some research I did after considering a vegetarian society.

The gardeners also believe in the complete reuse of everything. This is an interesting concept to me because it seems incredibly practical, especially in a post apocalyptic wasteland, like the one described after the “waterless flood”. There is definitely some utility in the ability to utilize products for different purposes, and there is certainly no harm in repurposing something to make it into something else. The Gardeners take it to a new extreme when they are simply reusing everything. They sleep on husks from dead plants, now that is a little extreme. Their entire society fascinates me simply because it is so different from the one that I am accustomed to living in. There are just so many fundamental differences between the world today and the cult that the Gardener’s live in. Which, I do believe them to be a cult. I had not thought of them that way until Lucerne started to tell people she had been abducted, and while that story was not truthful, there are many aspects of the Gardener way of life that are very cultish. I’m sure that in a time of incredible environmental change doomsday cults would pop up everywhere, and I’m sure there would be plenty of able bodied men and women waiting to join.

The final aspect of this book that needs to be discussed is how it relates to the class as a whole. This book is definitely about a changing environment. Which does relate to the climate element of our class, thankfully so because these books tend not to. There is also an interesting “end of the world scenario” element to this book, which allows us to test what we believe about our own faith and morals. Would you be able to carry a belief system with you even past the proverbial ‘end of days’. I think this book asks in a lot of ways what faith is, what belief is, and makes fun of those people who are overly prepared for climate change, the few who are doing all the work, and those who are woefully unprepared, the many who have not even changed their lightbulbs yet.

 

Works Cited

“Why You Should Think Twice About Vegetarian and Vegan Diets.” Chris Kresser. N.p., 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

Snowpiercer

I actually saw Snowpiercer over the summer in one of the 2 theaters in the area where it was actually playing. The story centers around Chris Evans, who plays Curtis, the leader of a quasi-Hunger Games rebellion bent on taking out the class system that has arisen in their society. This was all brought about by a plan to stop climate change through pumping coolants into the atmosphere. The plan backfired, and sent the world into a new ice age, leaving all that is left of humanity forever circling the earth on a massive never stopping train.

The train is divided by class, the wealthy belong to the front, where the poor reside in the back. This system has been in place for almost 20 years, and the passengers of the back finally step up to put an end to it, by pushing their way through the train, car by car, to get to the front and overthrow the established order.

As far as Dystopian Sci-Fi goes, this all seems pretty basic, but it’s truly unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Snowpiercer’s elegance is in it’s simplicity, what it lacks in intricate plot it makes up for in world building and characters. The world of the train is so beautifully weird and unique, with the variations in each car and how we see the culture change the further up the train you move, and how that world is filled with a wealth of memorable and weird characters. Most notably Tilda Swinton, who was easily giving one of the best and most hilarious performances of her career. The rest of the cast are all great as well, but it’s Tilda Swinton and Korean actor Kang-Ho Song who absolutely steal the show.

The weirdness of some of it’s characters is only heightened by the spectacle of it’s fight scenes, as well as the gorgeous set design. The fight scenes are tense and tight, and are only elevated by the unique settings in which they take place.

It’s really great that we get to watch this movie from the perspective of a cli-fi class. I love it because Snowpiercer is such a perfect example of how weird and different you can get with something like cli-fi, similarly to something like The Windup Girl, where the story could not exist without the cli-fi setting, but it’s more of a cherry on top rather than taking up the whole plate (like, arguably, Forty Signs of Rain).

As Ted Alverez stated in his article on the film for Grist.org, “Snowpierecer is a cli-fi film with no science in it, and we need more films like it.” He’s entirely correct. Because while it is very important to view cli-fi in a grounded realistic context, it’s also just as important to place it in a more accessible fictional context as well. “Climate change is merely the Big Bad that pushed us into a terrible struggle, like Russians in the ’80s or nuclear weapons in the ’50s (also, Russians in the ’50s).”

Using Climate Change as a concept alone without trying desperately to explain it creates an inherent fear with regards to it. It’s so easy to get bogged down with facts and figures and Snowpiercer recognizes that and that the greatest fear comes from the unknown and one of the only ways to increase awareness and inspire a reaction is to create fear through ambiguity.

All in all, Snowpiercer is a great ride that I highly recommend getting on at the next stop.

Snowpiercer Review

Snowpiercer was a highly anticipated movie for me as soon as I heard the plot and the cast. Claiming science fiction as my favorite genre, a climate fiction movie composed of high action beats and intense dramatic ramifications meant that Snowpiercer may have been made just for me. As a forewarning this movie is graphic, violent, and has many scenes that may force you to look away if you tend to be squeamish. I attempted to avoid spoilers as much as possible but things slip out in a review.
The plot of the movie is best left simply explained, as the twists and reveals are what give Snowpiercer its constant barrage of emotional gut-punches. The extremely diminished population of Earth is living onboard a train in constant motion. The world outside of the train is a barren and frozen tundra caused by scientists attempting to avert global warming, succeeding but throwing the process in reverse, causing a new Ice Age. On the train the people are segregated by class with the malnourished commoners in the back and the rich elite occupying the front. The train and plan to save humanity was all orchestrated by a visionary named Wilford, but getting into any more than his name takes away a central mystery to the movie. The desolate in the back of the train are led by the strategic Curtis and his old decrepit mentor Gilliam. Forced to eat disgusting protein blocks and live in squalor, Curtis bides his time waiting to lead a revolution.
There is a grotesque torture scene near the beginning of the movie that perfectly encompasses the brutality of life on the train. Describing this movie as a blood bath does not do the fight choreographers justice. Once the action and plot get in motion it rarely slows down as Curtis accompanied by other characters rebel and crawl their way to the front of the train. Lots of characters die, children are constantly in danger, and you will see and hear taboo content that is rarely touched upon in other movies. Snowpiercer is an Indy film that was only screened in selective theaters, explaining how it gets away with a few of its more noteworthy scenes. All of the grizzly scenes would be excessive had they not been backed up by the fantastic acting that makes this world feel all too possible.
The movie touches on a multitude of complex sci-fi issues such as geoengineering, eugenics, and “big brother” controlling the masses. Class exploitation and self-sacrifice are a main focus and while the film expresses that mankind is responsible for its own downfall; Capitalism is also to blame for the predicament that the train goers find themselves in. Curtis has a choice to make at the end of the movie with no clear cut answer. Is it better to attempt to change and fix the oppressing society, or burn the whole thing to the ground and begin anew? The ending of the movie did not go where I expected it to, but the revelations in the end of the movie justify Curtis’ decision and emotional journey whether you agree with his decisions or not.
In the secondary reading I chose for Snowpiercer, “A Snowpiercer Thinkpiece, Not to Be Taken Too Seriously, But For Very Serious Reasons” by Aaron Bady, I agree with a lot of the points that he made. I mentioned Curtis choice already and Bady had the same thought if the world “Is it worth sustaining? This is a question that the movie raises at several points, particularly when we learn why so many of the passengers lack arms and legs”. I had been confused during one scene in the movie when the rich train-goers and partiers are seemingly happy to have the opportunity to tear the lower class citizens limb from limb, and Bady gives a good explanation on why that may be, “Without occasional violence, there would be only pleasure, and pleasure fades when there is nothing but pleasure. At a certain point, you need blood; the revolution provides that blood, as does counter-revolutionary violence against the bare-life tail-section passengers”. I had not thought about it myself , but Bady makes a great point when he says that, “Snowpiercer is not about the revolution we might have today, then; it’s about the time after revolution has ceased to be possible”. I believe that the previous quote is a much better way to describe this film after the revelation in the end.

Overall the action, world building, and emotional beats make this a must see film for any fan of sci-fi, cli-fi, and dystopian fiction in general.