Thursday, October 10, 2013

Margaret Atwood ends her Dystopian Trilogy

“Oryx and Crake” (ISBN No. 978-0-3073-9848-2; Vintage Canada)
“The Year of the Flood” (ISBN No. 978-0-7710-0844-3; McClelland & Stewart)
“Maddaddam” (ISBN No. 978-0-7710-0846-7; McClelland & Stewart)

 There’s something unfair about using only 500 words to review 900+ pages of a dystopian trilogy but such is the state of blogging about books about the coming dystopia in our age of drive-by publishing and nanosecond attention spans.
To put it so the Millennials understand it, Margaret Atwood’s threesome is basically AMC’s “The Walking Dead” – without the gore, and with scientists, ciphers and their human-like creations as its survivors. And like TWD the start-up is thrilling and enthralling; the later stuff not so much.
In some action movies the budget is so large that the final half hour is nothing but special effects and explosions, a burning off of what’s left of the budget. “Maddaddam” applies a similar technique. Here Atwood burns off some of the most punishing back-and-forth dialogue I’ve ever read in order to use up the background she’d apparently written for her characters – but wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t use in the first two books of the trilogy. When a character says “needless to say” they’ve summed up three-quarters of “Maddaddam.”
To be fair there’s an emptiness here that eerily suggests a world suddenly uncluttered by pretty much everything - except the obligatory power struggles required in most dystopian fiction. There are “wow” moments about the book (I especially enjoyed the glowing rabbits, just one of the lab experiments of the future running wild when everything collapses) but for a writer of Atwood’s stature (and perhaps indicative of the disposable vampire/werewolf/teen romance content of Wattpad, the creative writing site she champions) the quiet assuredness of “Maddaddam” suggests a darker future for fiction. “Oryx and Crake” and “The Year of the Flood” were wonderful but “Maddaddam” is that most typical of millennial pursuits: elegant, empty art.

"Ace's Basement"/"Caught in the Act"

“Ace’s Basement” by Ted Staunton
ISBN No. 978-1-4598-0437-1
“Caught in the Act” by Deb Loughead
ISBN No. 978-1-4598-0496-8

 “Ace’s Basement” is – depending on your POV – about how Rebecca Black really feels about her YouTube video for the song “Friday” or well, okay, it’s a fictionalized treatment about how Rebecca Black probably feels about her YouTube video for the song “Friday.” In “Ace’s Basement” a youth band puts out a video and the attention it gets is a lot like Rebecca Black got for her YouTube video for “Friday.” What the band really gets is a good introduction to the consequences of hastily posted videos and tweets and the permanence of social media. All of this will be covered in the next news story about online bullying (gee, how did I know there’s a “next” one?) but the long form of a short novel allows Staunton to suggest the freaky frustration of self-absorbed youth who suddenly become punchlines, entertaining other self-absorbed youth.
The kids in “Caught in the Act” are the usual good kids who do something bad and then try to explain it away with an “I don’t know” when asked why they did it. The difference here is that they know how to get out of the stuff they’ve done – and not feel too bad about doing it or lying about it. Well, for a while, at least. It’s surprising how long Loughead dangles the prospect of redemption in front of her characters before they decide to do the right thing, but the wait is weighty enough to impress even the most hardened reader of finger-wagging tween fiction.