Thursday, 24 February 2011

Veggie Books: The Year of the Flood

In the future, when it all goes pear-shaped and we find ourselves eating our words/faeces/neighbours, I don't want to be brave. I want to be the wife in The Road - take a few pills and call the whole thing off. No walking large distances with only a pointy stick to protect myself. No scrabbling up roots to chew for energy whilst avoiding crazed cannibal rapists with bad hair.

I don't know if reading books about dystopian futures really does do a person any good. I end up thinking too much about what I would do in case of such an emergency, and yet there is no answer to that question, is there? What would you do if everyone else melted, like in Margaret Atwood's Year of the Flood? It's impossible to say. And reading about other people having to cope with it invariably makes me depressed.

So, in the novel, we have a pre-melting incident tribe of organic natural type people called The Gardeners, and they are at odds with the dog-eat-any sort of meat whatsoever people living packaged existences in decaying cities.

The Gardeners used a lot of soap, because they were so worried about microbes, but some of the cut-up soaps would be set aside. They'd be rolled into leaves and have strands of twisted grass tied around them, to be sold to tourists and gawkers at the Gardeners' Tree of Life Natural Materials Exchange, along with the bags of worms and the organic turnips and zucchinis and the other vegetables the Gardeners hadn't used up themselves.

This is the reminiscence of Ren, a girl who has survived the melting (known in Gardening circles as The Waterless Flood) and is living alone in the sex club where she once worked. She grew up as a Gardener, and she is hoping to be saved by the one real friend she made during that time. Will the savvy Amanda come and rescue her? Is Amanda even alive any more? Or is she just another gooey puddle?

The Year of the Flood carried me along in its skilfully portrayed awfulness, but I did feel a bit grubby by the end. I've gone off dystopias. I know there's a lot wrong with modern life, but does it have to end in utter disaster? I suppose I like my fiction with a little more hope in it ever since I produced a Munchie.

Also, I would add this is a follow-up to Oryx and Crake, which I haven't read. And maybe I should have because a few things happened at the end that left me bemused. If you were thinking of giving it a go, maybe read Oryx and Crake first.

Top Five Novels of Futures With Utter Despair In Them (not including 1984 for some reason):

1. The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
2. Z for Zachariah by Robert C O'Brien.
3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
4. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.
5. The Watchmen by Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons.

Got any other literary bleak futures for me? I used to love all these books and now I cry when I think about them. Sob.


Anonymous said...

George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty Four' and Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' have to be about the scariest dystopian visions ever.

Hhmm. I wonder if you need a certain mindset to even contemplate writing a dystopian novel. I'm sure I'm just too cheerful!

Gaby (Kimm)

Aliya Whiteley said...

I think I could write a really horrible one - being given to darker thoughts given half a chance - but I wonder how it would be to live with that in my head for a year. Not good.

C. N. Nevets said...

Some books like 1984, BNW, Farenheit -- I'm okay with those because they seem like I could fight against them. It's a system that's wrong, not the whole world itself.

The dystopian wasteland novel does very little for me because if everything's just kerfluh and no one's really going to do anything about it, what's the point? That's not only sad; it's boring.

And what's the point of that?

Aliya Whiteley said...

Yeah, I agree with you, Nevets. The Road suffers from this, for me. Also, weirdly, the end of Terminator 3 (whatever it was called). Nobody got saved. Everybody's had it, apart from one or two people who can't do a thing about it. Modern life is rubbish: I get it. I just don't want to live it.

Mack said...

If you want a bleak future and can find a copy, read The Genocides by Thomas Disch

Mack said...

Oops, I withdraw my recommendation for The Genocides. I just read your comment about about not caring for dystopian wasteland novels.

Aliya Whiteley said...

Q. How are dystopian novels like a bacon double cheeseburger meal from Burger King?

A. You know they'll make you feel bad, but you get a sniff of one and you find yourself at the front of the queue once more...

Will put it on my reading list, Mack!

Tim Stretton said...

Dystopian visions often don't work at novel length because they go just too bloody long.

For an economical yet utterly chilling treatment, try Harlan Ellison's classic short story "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream". The title is a pretty good indication of what you're going to get.

Aliya Whiteley said...

Yeah, that's a title and a half, Tim. Will fortify myself with Madeira one night and give that one a go.

Neil George Ayres said...

For something a little lighthearted, I'd recommend Eric Shapiro's It's Only Temporary. I had a copy somewhere but am pretty sure I gave it to someone quite a while ago. It's pre-apocalypse rather than post-.

Alis said...

Initially, I read this post a bit too quickly and thought the bit about the Gardners was a plan for some spoof of yours, Aliya. This is the plot of a real novel?! I knew there was a reason I've never got on with M Atwood (apart from The Handmaid's Tale which, though horrible, was excellent, if you know what I mean)

I deeply hated The Road. To such an extent that I failed to finish it and just got the precis of the second half from Son No 2 who had battled on manfully. It was just so relentlessly awful that it didn't carry me along. The odd flashback of happier times would have done it, as would a mere smidgeon of hope, but no, he just had to be relentless in his awfulness.

Aliya Whiteley said...

It's a real plot - I must admit, now you've said it, it does read a bit like one of mine.

Tim Stretton said...

...but less interesting.

Mack said...

Argh! How could I have forgotten my favorite post-catastrophe book, Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen. This book is set in Australia and the main characters are librarians but not like any librarian seen today -- they fight duels to settle library policy issues and all librarians have to be proficient in the use of weapons. There are fascinating descriptions of technology in a world where advanced technology and electricity are forbidden.