The Year of the Flood- Joining Cults Is Fun Except for the Brainwashing


Is it possible to be a benevolent and powerful leader? Does acting against something evil automatically make the actions themselves good? When we rebuild from rubble to sky while we use the same designs. These are my mild Atwood induced philosophical questions. The Year of the Flood, from its title to one of its most memorable characters, floats in allegory. /

The question that keeps gnawing at my brain is how much freedom is there in religion and how much freedom can we give it? If the routine and life of a garden and a charismatic leader allow you to fend off the pain of everything else and provide you with both security and perceived safety do the sources’  intention matter? And most importantly, does a man’s allegiance fall to his kin or to his god. It’s the idea of separation and individualism that strikes me about both religion and by extension Atwood’s The Year of the Flood.


It is my belief that the Atwood doesn’t think that the God’s Gardeners are to be ridiculed. They are people facing an unbelievable challenge by trying to structure their world in some way. Adam One is a man who believes that he is providing this structure by means of divinity. However, there is no question of who is in charge and whose views are to be agreed with, so the structured area becomes more sanitarium than sanctuary. The religious answers become doctrine, and sentiments of caring become lessons and warnings.

Now the themes of religion, influence, and maturing may seem better suited to a low-budget indie film, but they are the backbone of the climate debate. More accurately they are the reason that we are having a debate about a fact as if will power can change physics. The immediate des ri

Adam One is obviously a descendant of the incredibly conservative Kebler Elves
Adam One is obviously a descendant of the incredibly conservative Kebler Elves

community, and acceptance creates a vacuum of doubt and defensiveness. In a way our cult is one of denial, many of us worry about our immediate goals and them. We build our arks to transport only our ideals. However, we build arks with mud because we despise the effort of fashioning wood and why we can’t argue our boats afloat.

Post-Apocalyptic Feminist Vegetarian Heroines

I must start by saying that I have a lot of issues with Margaret Atwood’s world. I find her constant barrage of satirical portmanteau names for consumer products and bio-engineered animals quickly tiring. I likewise find Atwood’s emphasis on her novel as a work of “speculative fiction,” (as distinct from sci-fi), to be problematic, because while the technologies and much of the society present in The Year of the Flood are plausible enough, her actual narrative struggles to maintain her apparent commitment to realism. Why, for example, do all of these characters, who happen to know each other, also happen to survive the same devastating global pandemic that wipes out approximately 99.9% of everyone else? How does Bee-stings Blanco keep surviving Painball, when we see him disposed of by less rugged competition multiple times? Even if these events technically could happen, the insistence on “speculative fiction” seems dubious given how many coincidences are necessary to support Atwood’s plot.

But all of these issues aside, Atwood’s primary protagonists, Ren and Toby, are not only believable, they are also sympathetic and thoroughly admirable. After reading through the frustrating perspective of Jimmy in YotF’s predecessor, Oryx and Crake, it is refreshing to see the other side of the story. Likewise, Ren and Toby’s vegetarian moralism, while perhaps absurd to average (American) omnivore, is truly fascinating to think about for a real world vegetarian, (i.e. myself). It is tempting to imagine that in any post-apocalyptic world, all of its survivors will adhere to a strict pragmatism, (John Hay has some great thoughts about this in his essay, Shakespeare off the Grid,) but it is not unreasonable to think that people’s spiritual and moral beliefs will instantly dissipate as soon as their first pangs of hunger strike. (Toby and Ren may not take long to resort to carnivorism, but they certainly never feel good about it.) The Year of the Flood is at its best when it makes us consider the necessary compromises of its heroines and the determination of their convictions in the face of such a brutally indifferent and inhospitable world.

The Waterless Flood & More Interplay of Science, Religion, and Economy

In The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, the world has gone bad: the rich live as in castle towns while the poor eke out their livings in more-or-less lawless ghettos called “pleeblands,” which are run by street gangs, “pleebmobs,” controlled by the CorpSeCorp corporation which also owns the police. The corruption in government seems inextricable, and the violations of ethics are wholesale gruesome. For example, HelthWyzer purposely infects the poor with genetically designed illnesses, then profits from selling them the cures. In a world without accountability for big-enough businesses even for crimes as egregious as this, who cares about environmentalist concerns?

I am struck by the implicit relationship between Atwood’s fictional, oligarchic, feudal society and our real, modern trend toward less regulated, more out-of-control, more oppressively big business and wider gaps between rich and poor. It’s as if she is challenging our perspective, prompting us to take a wider, longer view—to consider how our day-to-day lives, our values and priorities, and our most fundamental beliefs might be affected by the onset of such a dreadful dystopia.

Atwood supposes that people who live deliberate, conservationist lifestyles will likely be seen as outsiders. In The Year of the Flood, they’ve assemble into persecuted cults, e.g. the militant Wolf Isaiahist or the pacifist God’s Gardeners. The book follows the God’s Gardeners, who are a bunch of hippies on Jesus, basically, who count prominent scientists among the saints for their secular contributions to humanity.  Their point of view is relayed through three narrators.

The youngest (and most fun, in my opinion) is Ren, who tells her story of move-around adolescent rebellion in the first person voice.

Toby is callused, stern, and unapproachable, an unwilling matriarch; true to character, her story of willful resistance is told in the third person.

The third and least frequent narrator is the spiritual leader of the Gardeners, Adam One. Through his sermonizing, Atwood manages to conflate Christianity, science, and socio-economic commentary into a worldview that is surprisingly cohesive—surprisingly especially because it is incomplete, as revealed by the unresolved debates over matters of doctrine and faith at the councils of Adams and Eves.  It makes me wonder, are our own worldviews any more cohesive?  What am I forgetting when I inform and adjust my own outlook upon the world?  What don’t I know?  What do I take for granted?  And also, why does it always sound silly, eccentric, or insane to attempt a new, holistic worldview?  Did we evolve as spiritual animals, like Adam One says, or as materialistic brutes who are naturally inclined to bully and discredit the peaceful, spiritual thinkers amongst us, like Zeb seems to believe?  “Wherever there’s nature, there’s assholes,” he says (186).  Either way, or both, we can be sure that we are struggling.  This existential struggle is what, I believe, Atwood is trying to evoke.  She gets it.

The book is chopped up into sections, oddly—by theme, by time? (Years pass)—and each section is introduced by a sermon from Adam One paired with a weird hymn.  It does cohere, but not right away. The structure makes the book off-putting early on, but ultimately works to convey a wider perspective, a range of viewpoints, all rich with Atwood’s unique insights into people, society, and religion.

So playfully presented, the plot is almost undetectable until well into the story, but the characters are so sympathetic, the book is gripping nonetheless. I would recommend The Year of the Flood to all readers over age 15, just for the experience of such a wild book, though it’s too full of peroration (blunt, however artful) to ever be a favorite of mine, personally. It is a vast, ludicrous, character-driven, good novel, which raises questions worth asking.

God’s Gardeners Oral Hymnbook

When The Year of the Flood was released in 2009, it was accompanied by an album composed by the musician Orville Stoeber, who set the “Hymns” of God’s Gardeners to music. Here’s a video in which Stoeber sings and plays “The Garden” (the first hymn in the novel) while Atwood looks on:


There’s a lot more here.

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

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

Flood?!?!? Just say Epidemic…

Although this was another long book, i liked it. i liked that the main characters were two girls and their romantic relationship wasn’t the progress that helped a book tell the characters’ story. The jumping around from characters and time wasn’t too bad, because the chapter titles explained who and when the story is talking about.
The community of God’s Gardeners remind me of the Amish Society. Very God based, and very natural based.The Amish view the outside world as sinful, and often unhealthy. At the age of 16, the Amish allow their children to go out into society and experience it for a year, to live as they want. At the end of the year, the young adult must choose to commit to the Amish way of life or join society and end their ties with the Amish community. When a member commits to living with them in God’s Garden, they must abide by their rules. Like the change of diet in becoming a strict vegan, change in wardrobe, or their disuse of technology.
Atwood’s strong religious correlation makes me wonder how she views it. Although she ends the book with “God’s will” being completed, everything about the God’s Garden community seems like a cult. The titles for the men and women as “Adam” and “Eve” is weird. Their way of life reminds me of the Amishs, and their goals are very Christian based. Atwood also doesn’t seem to shy away from showing that these communities are not free from individual corruption. Like when Bernice believed that Burt was having an affair with Nuala, and she contacted the CorpSeCorps to have him arrested for selling marijuana at the market for personal gain.
I feel like this is an extreme representation of the society that we already live in. The epidemic in the book is caused from degration of the environment as a result from big corporations is an intensified all-at-once reaction to the pollution that produced from them. However in reality, the reason the number of people with health problems, like asthma, cancer, disorders and deformities have increased is because of the chemicals we put into the production of our food and also into the air.

Sorry for any misspelling or grammatical errors, the computer im using doesn’t have Microsoft:/


The Year of the Flood… Woah…

After reading The Windup Girl last week, I was really in the mood to read a science fiction book that really engaged me and made me feel immersed in the world of the book. Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood was exactly what I needed. From the very beginning I was intrigued by the language, the companies, and the different factions that made up the world. This is a perfect example of how to create a fictional environment that feels real.

One of the strengths of this book is the fact that it’s told from two different perspectives. That way we get two different views and opinions on the world, and as a reader, I was able to make my judgements based on the two sides. Toby felt seemed to feel more speculative while Ren seemed to be completely wrapped up in the world around her, and what a world it is. I haven’t read too many books based around cults, so this really grabbed my attention. The Gardeners were a peaceful people, but their occasional hypocrisies and unwillingness to come to solid decisions made them a little uncomfortable as well.

As for the different organizations and companies, I just couldn’t get enough of the names like HelthWyzer and the Sea/H/ear devices. That’s very clever and consistent. Also the different kinds of animals like the genetically modified sheep and the liobams are something to be remembered and vividly imagined. Even though this was a book, I felt like there was so much to see and experience.

While the book dragged on a little bit, it is my favorite thing we read along with Forty Signs of Rain. I’m certainly interested in picking up the other two in the trilogy since I did feel like I was missing out on some stuff. Still, it was a great book.

Year of the Flood: Climate change hidden inside a compelling story

For a sequel, The Year of the Flood stands on its own surprisingly well. Full of interesting characters, engaging plots, and of course climate issues, it was a great read. The story centers around two members of a vegetarian cult known as God’s Gardeners, Ren and Toby. Both women survive a deadly virus engineered to replace humans with a new race of immortal people.

The book is, at its core, a cli-fi book, though it wisely focuses more on its engaging plot and great characters. The message still gets across. The God’s Gardeners, who bring life into the world and sustain it, are the heroes. The corporations, who produce artificial things and fight to keep profits coming at the expense of other people, are the villains. This is clearly an echo of our society today, as companies manipulate legislation in order to keep destroying our planet.

I thought this book had some great things to say about faith and family, as well. The dedication of the Gardeners to each other, especially at the end as they come together to support each other even after being separated for so long, helped us to see their feelings of connection to each other. Even those that didn’t believe in Adam One’s teachings found solace in them in the end. I thought it put a great message across about how humans use both religion and family as support in times of great tragedy. 

This book made me really wish I had read Oryx and Crake first. I felt as though there were important bits of plot that I missed out on due to skipping the book. I wished I knew more about Glenn and Jimmy, and their motivations to do the things they did. While I appreciated the glimpse we got of them through the memories of Ren, I felt as if there was more I needed to know about them, particularly Glenn and his thoughts leading up to his decision to wipe out humankind. I also feel as though pairing this book with Oryx and Crake might help to highlight the class issues that are so prevalent in climate change fiction. The perspectives of the rich and the poor juxtaposed could really show the differences in suffering and privilege. We got a little of that difference in this book, as we got to see the results of Glenn’s playing god from the eyes of the people it hurt the most.

Overall, I thought the book was great. It had great themes, great characters, and a great story to tell. It gripped me all the way through. While I wish I’d had some more knowledge of its predecessor going in, that is not the fault of the book. Even without Oryx and Crake, the book stands on its own fairly well.