#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?

The Infertility Apocalypse

The Fertility ApocalypseThe Infertility Apocalypse

Let me count the ways in which society could end and the world fall apart. There are aliens. There’s zombies. There’s nuclear war. There’s plague. There are super volcanoes. There’s hurtling into the sun at a million miles an hour. Then of course, there’s the rapture.

Zombies are getting to be old-hat. We’ve talked nuclear war to death and lived several decades in fear that it might actually happen. There are just so many ways the world could fall apart, but very few think about the world falling apart due to infertility. There are three female authors who have thought of this though. The three authors I want to speak about are Megan McCafferty, author of the Bumped series, P.D. James, author of The Children of Men, and Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale. Each of these women has written a dystopian story about a world in which infertility is the driving factor in how people behave. Society as we know it has fallen apart due to a lack of fertility.

Of course it would be a woman who wrote about an apocalypse by infertility. Men are more apt to think about hordes of zombies destroying their lives over the inability to get pregnant or get someone pregnant destroying their lives. Although, if you happen to know of a book or a short story written by a man which is along the lines of the mentioned books, I would be happy to know about it.

I would like to start off by giving a short summary of each book so we have something to reference back to.

The Infertility Apocalypse Bumped by Megan McCafferty

Bumped, and its sequel Thumped, are set in a future world, approximately 2025 or thereabouts. The problem with the world is that there is a virus that limits the reproductive abilities of everyone. For the most part the fertility window of a person is from puberty to eighteen to twenty years old and that’s it. It affects both men and women; there is no cure.

Society has degraded into an all-encompassing need for teenagers to procreate. Babies are sold like candy bars. Sex isn’t for pleasure or because you like someone; it’s purely to make a baby. Everything revolves around pregnant teenage girls like they’re some sort of weird celebrities.

The Infertility Apocalypse The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Nuclear war and religious zealism has changed society. Because of the effects of nuclear fallout many women are not able to become pregnant anymore. The few who are, are trained in a special manner. Their destiny is to be handmaids unto a married couple, just as Hagar was a handmaiden to Sarah and Abraham in the Bible.

The handmaid’s job is to produce an heir for a couple. The handmaids themselves are not eligible for marriage because of classified past transgressions. Sex has become ritualized in a strange manner involving not only the handmaid and the man, but also his wife. Paternities are often faked due to infertility of husbands.

The Infertility Apocalypse The Children of Men by P.D. James

For some unknown reason, no one is fertile anymore. No one noticed it at first, but soon appointment registers at clinics and hospitals were bereft of pregnant women coming in for checkups and deliveries. It’s been about twenty-five years since the last babies were born. There is mandatory fertility testing for everyone deemed eligible. So far there has not been any luck.

People are often at war and at religious upheaval because the hope of society is doomed. There is no one to continue on afterwards, so what’s the point? One baby would give the world hope. One baby would put the world on a path in the right direction, but it would also create chaos in the uproar that it would cause when everyone found out.

Why an Infertility Apocalypse is Clever

Why is this such a neat idea? Why am I writing about it? What makes this type of apocalypse so much more special than say, zombies?

I already touched on why this was a great idea in my review of the book Bumped, but I’ll recap here. An infertility apocalypse is a great thing to write about because it’s plausible. There are scientific leanings that could possibly point to something like this actually happening. It’s also something we wouldn’t expect. Even though zombies aren’t real, we would probably expect society to have its downfall from them before we would expect society to have its downfall from the inability to have babies. Why? Well, because we’ve always been able to have babies. It’s something we take for granted. We’ve always been able to do it, so why shouldn’t we be able to keep doing it? We so often think our society will change through great measures, war, zombies, aliens, and natural disasters, that we forget that little things could destroy us.

In truth, we’re actually having a bit of an infertility crisis these days. I know it doesn’t appear that way since we have over seven billion people on the Earth, but hear me out. In developed countries, there is getting to be a bit of a problem with fertility and we’re not talking about fifty-year old women wanting babies, we’re talking about women of normal child-bearing ages, twenty to forty, having lots of problems having babies. Infertility is becoming an issue. It’s not simply a manner of more people talking about it, but more people are actually talking about it; it’s a matter of the whole thing becoming more common.

We can attribute this partly to an autoimmune disease called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS. Nobody knows what causes this disease or really why it came about. PCOS accounts for seventy percent of infertility cases in The United States, again, don’t quote me on that exactly, those were statistics from a while back. It’s estimated that about ten percent of women of child-bearing ages have PCOS in The United States, but it’s also becoming a big problem in other developed countries, the UK and Australia just to name a couple. PCOS does not mean a woman will be infertile, but women with PCOS have at least some problems conceiving and carrying to term. When we speak of PCOS, we’re talking about a disease that has sky-rocketing rates. Women are being diagnosed right and left; it doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all.

We don’t know what causes PCOS. We have theories. It’s BPA, it’s hormone mimickers like soy, it’s the fact that your mother smoked while she was pregnant, it’s the fact that your father was exposed to Agent Orange, it’s the fact that you live by a Teflon plant, it’s the fact that you took hormonal birth control pills, it’s the fact that it could be genetic, or maybe it’s even GMOs. We don’t know what it is. There are so many things it cold be, that we haven’t been able to pin anything down. The longer it takes us to figure it out the more women will develop PCOS. We don’t have any idea how some of these things in our lives affect us long-term or even if USDA and FDA rulings are even true or accurate. It’s a mystery.

Now, PCOS while being the biggest spoke in the wheel of infertility among women, is definitely not the only problem. We also have unexplained infertility to look to, which as you guessed cannot be explained. Doctors throw their hands up in the air and say, “Beats me.” They can’t tell you why you can’t get pregnant. Let’s not forget about the men though. Men are having some fertility issues as well. Some people are even theorizing that men have become a lot more feminine in recent years because of all the fake hormones, specifically estrogen-like substances, that we find in our food, our clothes, and our chemicals.

We may be shooting ourselves in the foot. We’re paying attention to immediate side-effects of some of these things, but we’re not paying attention to long-terms and effects on fertility. If no one can have babies, we’re screwed. We don’t think about it, probably because it’s not a pleasant thought and it just seems so far-fetched that it would never be, but I’ve just given you evidence that it could be. We have a basis for an infertility apocalypse.

Theoretically, you could sit down and “what if” yourself to death over the possibility of an infertility apocalypse. There are just so many things we could attribute it to. We may know a lot about the human body these days, but we can’t explain everything. We don’t know what certain things will do to a person. Who knows, maybe WiFi decreases our fertility? That’s an awful thought, is it not?

We think it’s always going to be there. We think we’re always going to be able to reproduce. Women are probably more attuned to the idea that an infertility apocalypse could be a thing because women actually stop being fertile after a certain point in life, menopause. Women deal with the fact that they will reach a certain point and no longer be able to have babies. Men never reach that point; that’s probably why a man hasn’t written a dystopian novel about an infertility apocalypse(again, I’m glad to know if there actually is).

Margaret, Megan, and P.D. were very clever when they wrote their dystopian novels dealing with this very thing. It was just so smart because you expect the big things to get you, not the little things.

Common Threads in Infertility Apocalypse Stories

We’ve discussed why the idea of an infertility apocalypse is so clever, but let’s discuss the stories themselves. All three books mentioned deal with fertility problems, but they have other commonalities besides that. There are two ideas that jump out a me when thinking of these three books: A short time frame for things to fall apart and extreme religion.

In each book Bumped, A Handmaid’s Tale and The Children of Men, the world has fallen apart pretty fast after the news that everyone’s fertility was impaired. A Handmaid’s Tale has the shortest time frame, being only a few years, while Bumped and The Children of Men are about twenty-five years into the whole process. In the latter two books, it didn’t take twenty-five years to get that bad, it’s just been twenty-five years since things happened. Things got bad right away. People freaked out immediately when they knew what was going on. The latter two books are just further along into the apocalypse. In Margaret’s book, people are still trying to figure out how to cope with the infertility of society.

Why did it happen so fast? It happened so fast because we’re human and we freak out over the littlest things and let the smallest things in life buffet us around from one decision to the other. Have you ever seen a toddler break into tears over some insignificant thing? We’re all like that, even though we don’t like to admit it. Sure, we would all like the say that if we found out the world couldn’t have any more babies that we would live out the rest of our lives normally, but we can’t say that. Our lives, our normal lives, are built upon the idea that someone is coming after us. Our entire existence revolves around the idea that there will be someone to continue on your name, your project, your business, or even your legislation. Our lives lose a lot of meaning if there is no one to follow. So, yes, our lives would be turned completely upside down if we suddenly found out that we couldn’t reproduce anymore.

The other similarity in all three books is religion. As I have mentioned before, people often turn to a power higher than themselves in times of trouble. They may not call that thing God, but they have something they look to. They have something they want to give their lives meaning. A lot of us would wonder if we were being punished for something we had done if we found out we were all infertile. We would wonder what our sins were that caused this thing to happen.

Some of us would turn to religion simply as a means to cope, but others would turn to religion as a means to seek forgiveness. They feel that they’ve done something wrong to cause this awful thing to happen and now they must atone for it. The religions in all three books are extreme. In Bumped, religion turns into girls getting married at thirteen and having babies and wearing clothing that covers up their entire bodies, which sounds an awful lot like something you’d read about the FLDS church under Warren Jeffs. In A Handmaid’s Tale, religion has become incorporated with the government. People have gone back to fundamentals, way back, as in the Old Testament. In The Children of Men, there are strange religious cults that do things on the beaches and out in the woods. Organized religion as we know it, still kind of exists in that world, but things have lost a lot of meaning.

In truth, we would wonder. When science couldn’t give us the answer to why we all went infertile, we would likely turn to religion for an answer or even a semblance of an answer. Some of us would believe it was punishment. Some of us would use religion to give our lives purpose because now there’s nothing that’s going to come behind us.

In The End

Megan, P.D., and Margaret were all so very clever for writing a story about an infertility apocalypse. It’s a brilliant idea. It has a plausibility that zombies will never have.


 

 

#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.