#863 The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret AtwoodThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Charmaine and Stan live in their car. Stan used to have a job, but he lost it. Charmaine works in a bar. Lots of people don’t have jobs. People live in their cars. Gangs roam the streets rampant and intent on victimizing anybody to make their lives just a little easier.

There’s something going on, an experiment. It’s an experimental community. The community provides jobs and a place to live, the only catch is that every other month you have to go to prison. Husbands and wives are separated. Another couple lives in the house when the first couple is in prison. They’re called alternates.

Life goes ok for a while. Stan works with chickens and Charmaine does something in medication administration. Things start to get a little weird though. A friend had told the couple not to go into the community because it was dangerous. Everything is bugged. People are expected to behave a certain way. Charmaine soon meets the alternate man who lives in her house when she’s not there. The two start an affair, always meeting in abandoned houses, without bugs, or so Charmaine thinks.

This is just the beginning though. It turns out the alternates in Stan and Charmaine’s house are activists and Charmaine and Stan are getting dragged right along with them. Soon the couple is learning about strange sex robots and bran surgery that makes a person imprint on another person. There are sex robots that look like Elvis and they’re a big hit. There’s something even more nefarious going on in the community that involves human beings. Charmaine and Stan are going to play a part in putting a stop to it.

What I liked

I do tend to like most things that Margaret writes and this was no exception, although it’s a little strange. There was definitely humor in this book. Who would think that sex robots that looked like Elvis would be a huge hit? It certainly doesn’t float my boat.

Margaret is looking at a financially depressed society in this book. It’s not now and it may not be ever, but it could be. It’s actually quite plausible. If we had a more significant economic collapse where would people live? It’s very possible that many people would end up out in their cars and on the streets. Is there the potential for humanity to be taken advantage of during this time period? Could humans be placed in facilities to live and work? Yes and yes. If you listen to conspiracy theorists out there, the government has something called FEMA camps, which is where we’re supposedly going to go after we’re rounded up by the government for whatever reason. Is it true? I have no clue.

In this book’s case, the community is run by a private organization, no doubt with backing from various politicians. It’s for profit. There’s nothing magnanimous about this. It’s too good to be true and everyone there should be worried about it.

What I didn’t like

It’s a bit of an awful thing when one part of humanity thinks it can take advantage of another part of humanity for whatever flimsy reasons it gives. In this case, some people were so poor they couldn’t make it on their own, so it’s ok to prey upon them and essentially herd them up like cattle. Not cool.

The thing is, I think there would be some people who would take advantage of others in these situations. Would it be on the nightly news? Maybe not, but I think it would happen.

Overall

If they say they’re going to give you a job and pay your rent, there’s probably a catch so big it could fill Rhode Island.

Weigh In

If you were broke, would you take your chances in a community like the one in this book?

Do you think some people just wait for unfortunate societal circumstances to take advantage of others?

#585 The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

Oh Penelope, left alone for quite a long time while her husband Odysseus went off to fight wars and deal with gods. Penelope was just a teenager when she was married to Odysseus. She was in the shadow of her cousin Helen and was then taken away from her family and off to Ithaca once she was married. She had a son. Life seemed good, or at least alright, until men were called to arms to go to war.

Penelope was left by herself. She didn’t know anything about running a household, but she decided to do her best.

After her husband was gone some time, everyone assumed he was dead. Penelope didn’t want to think this. She had not dreamed of his ghost. Suitors started to show up. They were young. They were boisterous. They were around her son’s age. They all wanted to marry her for her money and her estate, but she didn’t want to marry any of them.

Odysseus did make his way back, as we all know. Penelope arranged a contest for the suitors, which Odysseus won, disguised. Penelope knew it was her husband, but let things play out. She once again had her husband and things went on, even into the afterlife.

What I liked

I have never actually read the Iliad or the Odyssey. They’re considered “epics.” I like poetry, but I don’t like poetry that much. Maybe some day I will read each of these epics, but that day is not today. Despite the fact that I have never read these, I know large parts of the story line. Penelope was a character, but not necessarily one in the spotlight. The story wasn’t really about her, although she was definitely a part of it. I liked that this book was about her and her side of the story.

What I didn’t like

I love Margaret Atwood, but this was one of those books that was difficult to get through. There was poetry mixed in with the text, which I admit to not thoroughly reading. Penelope’s story seemed rather thin, but this was a short book. There wasn’t necessarily enough time to develop Penelope’s story further. Her story is famous and already developed to a point. This book is more like an addition to what we already know of Penelope. I liked that I have more insight into Penelope, but it’s not really deep enough for me.

Overall

Penelope is definitely quite the faithful woman.

Weigh In

If you were in her situation, would you have waited?

Do you feel sorry for Penelope?

#583 Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

 Surfacing by Margaret Atwood Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

A nameless woman’s father is lost and she goes out in the wilderness of Canada to find him. There is some civilization there, but not much. Her boyfriend and another couple come with her on the journey. A boat takes them to the island where her father had his cabin. It was the cabin she used to live in, but she had since moved away. A dark past haunts her. She was married and had a baby, but this fact becomes disputed as the story moves on.

She thinks her father is alive, somewhere, maybe watching from the brush. She tries to find clues as to where he may have gone. There are cryptic drawings that don’t make a lot of sense on a littered desk.

The relationships she has with her boyfriend and friends begins to change. Her boyfriend isn’t really someone she has feelings for. Her friends do not have the perfect marriage. Secret after secret seems to leak out in the wilderness. Ultimately, she chooses to be feral. The world has too much noise. She’s too connected to the land. The loss of her seemingly unloving father is too great.

What I liked

I love Margaret Atwood and I am always happy to read one of her books. This book does have an interesting mystery involved. Where did her father go and why? That’s not all though, she unravels mysteries about herself. Why does she not seem to feel certain emotions? What really happened in her past?

Sometimes a good book is a book that does not answer all of your questions. At the end of this book, I was not sure of her fate, or her past. Did things really happen how she said they happened? She is obviously suffering some mental issues. This book shows the reader how a person can fall apart and doubt themselves.

What I didn’t like

This book was not an easy read and it took me much longer to read it than it should have. The time estimate said 2-3 hours, but it took me longer than that and I’m a fast reader.

The main character concerns me. She obviously has some issues, but she ends up being left to her own devices. How will things turn out for her? How will she live? Will she degrade further than she has? I think it’s unfortunate that she unraveled to the extent that she did.

Overall

Wild Woman

Weigh In

Do you ever daydream of living out in the wild?

Could you make it if you did have to live in the wild?

#446 The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

The Year of the Flood by Margaret AtwoodThe Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

This is the second book in Margaret’s series that all started with Oryx and Crake. In this installment of the series we meet Ren and Toby, mainly, but there are other characters that come into play as well as some background as to what happened in the previous book.

Ren and Toby were both members of a cultish type of movement called The Gardeners. They lived in the modern world along with everyone else. They lived among the people who took a pill for everything, but they lived apart. They would often live in abandoned buildings growing gardens on the roof. Their religious philosophies foretold of a waterless flood. This flood would bring about the downfall of humanity. They are preppers. They stockpile food and learn how to fend for themselves. The children of the community all learn valuable skills.

Ren was brought to the community when she was a young child. Her mother ran away with her from a compound and also from her father. She now lives with a man named Zeb. They’re all gardeners. They don’t eat meat and use plants medicinally. They shun flashy clothes and devices. Amanda soon finds her way into Ren’s life. Amanda lives with Ren for a while with the gardeners. We met Amanda in the previous book. She was one of Jimmy’s girlfriends.

Toby also belongs to the gardeners. She was rescued. Her parents had both died. She knew she was going to be out on the street. There was no more college future for her. She got a job at a place called Secret Burger, a restaurant that makes burgers out of any kind of meat. The secret is that you don’t know what meat went into your burger. The manager there, Blanco, is violent and often sexually abuses his workers. Toby is soon singled out by Blanco. One day protesters come to the restaurant. The protestors are none-other than the gardeners who call them themselves Adams and Eves. They abscond with Toby to their gardens. There she helps with plants. Later on, she becomes an Eve herself and learns all the secrets that various plants and mushrooms hold.

The flood does come. Ren has grown up and has found herself working at a brothel of sorts. She’s a dancer amongst other things. She too was one of Jimmy’s girlfriends, the first in fact. Ren is sealed up in something called the sticky room when the waterless flood hits. The room is sealed off to prevent biohazardous materials from leaking out, so it’s the safest possible place Ren could be. She is able to text Amanda who is on the outside, but she’s still alive. Ren stays in her room for quite while.

Amanda soon finds her and gets her out. Three young men are also reunited with Ren and Amanda. They are gardeners as well. They plan to leave because some criminals, including Blanco are prowling the streets looking for them. Toby is alive and well. She put up a stockpile of food in the beauty spa where she was working. She soon meets up with Ren and the plans now turn into a rescue mission. It turns out more people survived the plague than Jimmy had thought. Jimmy also holds a place in this story.

What I liked

I really liked that I got more background to Margaret’s apocalypse. It’s really neat to see how fictitious apocalypses develop. Who caused them? Why? Are they plausible? How many people survive? It’s all highly interesting.

I liked this group of preppers that Margaret thought up. There are people who are preppers in real life. There is an entire show about it and there are also entire religious groups who are counseled to put away things they might need in case of a disaster. Mostly, it’s just common sense. Disaster can and will happen. It may not be a world-wide disaster or country-wide disaster, but wouldn’t you feel better knowing you had the materials to ride out being stuck in a hurricane-ravaged area if you had to? Of course your would feel better. In a lot of situations people die because they’re not prepared. People die every winter because they don’t have enough heat sources. It’s really a preventable death, but that’s just one example.

What I’m trying to say is that being a prepper isn’t that weird. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, have hurricane essentials on hand. If you live in an area prone to tornadoes, have a storm shelter. If you live near a chemical plant, have bug-out bags in case there is a chemical spill and you have to leave. Being a prepper is a smart move, of course, it’s never good to let something like being a prepper take over your life. You still have to remember that there is a here and now. Your disaster that you’re preparing for may never happen. You can’t prep for the future and ignore your life now. ┬┐Comprende?

I think these gardeners had a good mix. They had their religion. They had their activities. They had their structure. They had children’s activities and celebrations, but they also prepped. They were prepared. The children were prepared. They were still living in the now, but prepping for the future. You may think they’re a weird lot, but they’re smart. They really are. Why do you think I have a collection of books about living off the land and doing things myself? It’s so I can have that knowledge on hand in case I need it. It’s very important to be able to survive. That seems like a “duh” kind of thing to say, but people often forget that we live a very fine balance. We can be thrown off course so easily. We need to know what to do in case that happens.

What I didn’t like

The religion of the gardeners is rather strange. I get where they’re coming from, but it all seems so odd. I guess that’s probably because it’s not something I’m familiar with. I don’t really like how these sermons were interspersed in the text along with the gardener hymns. I really tuned that part of the book out. It’s important to the story because that’s how Ren, Toby, and Amanda survive, but it just sounds so hokey. I kind of wished they would have shut-up and went on about their lives.

I would say I’m a spiritual person and I was raised somewhat in an organized religion, so I’m not opposed to any of this. I wish people would profess their beliefs through actions rather than by cornering you and professing what they believe in. That’s kind of what I feel these gardeners were doing. They just went on and on. Actions speak louder than words, but I can’t really say these gardeners did not act, because they did. They followed through with their words; I just didn’t want to listen to their words. I guess I’m more the type that wants you to show me what you believe. If you believe in the great flying spaghetti monster there better darn well be some kind of painting on your wall of the great flying spaghetti monster. You better not just talk to me all about the great flying spaghetti monster and don’t even think about giving me some Photoshopped pamphlet about the joys of following the great flying spaghetti monster. I want to see your faith in action. I want to see you living it.

Margaret is good at painting depraved societies. This society is sad. People worship science and manipulate things they should not. She kind of has this vibe that humans are trash, I know she doesn’t entirely think that because she puts hope in her stories about the human race, but it’s still there a little. She’s right. We can be trashy. We can be careless. We can be unobservant. We can ruin things. We ruin a lot of things. We could very well bring down a disaster upon ourselves. We could shoot ourselves in the foot. Honestly, if there is ever a huge life-changing event that spreads across the world and life sucks for us from then on, it’s probably going to be because we caused it. I wouldn’t go as far as to taut all the ideas the global warming people have, I don’t think New York is going to be in the ocean anytime soon, but that could be part of it. It will some sort of warfare, some sort of experiment gone wrong, or some disease we left unchecked. Maybe we fracked too much and ruined something that we don’t have the knowledge to fix. We really tend to consume before we think. Margaret has captured that splendidly, but it’s also a reminder of how terrible we can be.

Overall

Margaret, you’re so freaking awesome.


#444 Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake by Margaret AtwoodOryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

This probably isn’t the best time to be reading a dystopian post-apocalyptic novel about an apocalypse caused by a hemorrhagic genetically engineered virus, but whatever. I like Margaret Atwood and I liked this book.

The main character in this book is called Snowman; his name isn’t really Snowman, it was once Jimmy. Jimmy used to have a life in the real world. He grew up in a compound. The intelligent scientists of the world all lived in compounds, while normal people still lived out in the world. The space out in the rest of the world was called the pleeblands.

Jimmy’s life now consists of keeping an eye over some strange people. They’re not people like him. They don’t wear clothes. They can eat grass. They can purr. Their stomachs turn blue when they’re ready to mate. Snowman is something of a leader to them. He calls them Crakers. They were spliced together by Crake. Crake is gone now, but Snowman tells the Crakers that he can talk to them. Snowman has created an entire mythology for the Crakers. Most animals are children of Oryx, another ill-fated friend of Snowman’s.

Snowman has decided to journey back to a nearby compound to get things he needs. Along the way we learn the story of how all of this came to be. Snowman used to live in a compound with his mother and father when he was Jimmy. His father worked on genetically engineered pigs that grew human organs. His mother didn’t like the work they were doing; one day she disappeared. For years afterwards government security would accost Jimmy about the whereabouts of his mother. Jimmy goes on. He grows up. In high school he makes a friend.

That friend is named Crake. Crake and Jimmy spend a lot of time together watching the news and porn. Their academic abilities are quite different. Crake is accepted into a first-class university, while Jimmy is stuck with going to a rather unimpressive school. They both get their degrees. Crake goes to work for a very large and profitable firm. Jimmy goes to work writing ads. He spins words.

Conversations with Crake have always been a little weird. Crake hypothesizes about the downfall of mankind. If mankind did fall down, how would they get back up? In some instances it would be impossible. One day Crake shows up on Jimmy’s doorstep and offers him a job. Crake has created new pills that promise to do all manner of things. They’ll keep you young. They’ll keep you from getting STDs, and they’ll also sterilize you, but this isn’t listed on the product details. Jimmy knows the pills will sell themselves, but he goes along with it.

This is where he first meets Oryx and the Crakers. The Crakers are Crake’s creation and pet project. He says they’re a new breed of people. They’re resistant to various diseases. They have their own pest repellent built-in. They don’t understand many of the ways of the world. They’re very innocent. They grow up faster and die at thirty. Oryx on the other hand grew up in a hard life. She was sold into human trafficking at a young age. She did manage to go to school and become somewhat educated. She was also given a job in Crake’s secret experiment.

One day Oryx says she’s going out for Pizza, but she never completely makes it back inside. All pandemonium has broken loose. The world is falling apart. Jimmy gets to watch as everyone dies. He’s immune because Crake vaccinated him. The Crakers are immune because they were engineered to be that way. He promised Oryx he would take care of them and so he does.

What I liked

I don’t think genetic modification is a good idea. It’s just not. We don’t know the consequences of the changes we’re making. That’s why more people than ever have food allergies now. Our food is screwed up because scientists in laboratories have been playing with your wheat, your corn, your soybeans, and all manner of other plants in the name of increasing the bottom line of agribusiness. It may seem like all business, but it’s not, especially when people start to get sick. In this book, Margaret creates a great warning against genetic modification.

Scientists already modify animals; goats being modified to produce spider silk in their milk is old news. I have also heard that some countries are experimenting a little with human genetic modification. None of it’s really verified of course. We simply don’t know what modifying this tiny thing here is going to mean down the line. There could be huge consequences to moving just one little thing around. Margaret gives us a what-if. The world of Jimmy was riddled with genetic modification. Everything was being modified, everything. People were crossing skunks with raccoons. People were crossing snakes with rats. These animals are dangerous. They take over existing animals.

The genetic modifications in Jimmy’s world are everyday things. Everyone is used to it. People even go along with the idea of a chicken modified beyond recognition, which simply seems to grow instead of live. There are strange diseases popping up everywhere, but even stranger medications popping up to treat those diseases. It’s all a matter of business. If people are healthy, you can’t sell them items to get healthy. If you can make them sick, you can certainly sell them items to get rid of that disease. The problems escalate and escalate. The environment falters and eventually someone like Crake takes advantage of that. It may seem out-there and implausible, but it’s not really that implausible. What’s so different about modifying a disease to be released at a certain time? What’s so different about modifying butterflies to be gigantic? We already have the ground work in these areas; we’re within reach. Margaret imagines a world that really isn’t that far ahead.

What I didn’t like

I think Margaret is amazingly creative for imaging this strange world, but it’s also scary. It is a big lesson. Don’t mess with things you don’t understand. Don’t supposedly fix something and then have it turn out to be a disaster later on because you broke something when you fixed it. We’re living in something of a precursor to Margaret’s imagined world. We’re really just getting into the idea of genetic modification, but we don’t really understand it enough. We’ve already had experiences where genetically modified species run out the regular species. We’ve had scares of people being sick with Bt corn.

Margaret also makes another very astute option. Let’s say we did screw up, royally. Let’s say we were plunged back into the stone age. We can’t go back. We can’t get back to now. We’ve made it impossible to get back to now because we preserved nothing. We mined all the minerals close to the surface of the Earth. Those who would have to rebuild, wouldn’t have the ability to mine for ore to make new metal objects. They wouldn’t have the ability to use oil because we’ve gotten all of it that is close to the surface. They would either have to become really creative with what they did have or live like it was way back when. Those are really the only two options. It’s a sad and scary realization. We can’t be as resilient as we would like to be because we kind of shot ourselves in the foot. Nice.

Overall

Once again, Margaret has tickled my imagination. That’s what I’m going to describe it as. She has me thinking of all these what-ifs.