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October 18, 2013 7:10 pm
MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood, Bloomsbury RRP£18.99, 416 pages
The final volume of Atwood’s speculative-fiction series, after Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Year of the Flood (2009) is set in the aftermath of a man-made plague. Only a few people remain on Earth, along with a group of “Crakers”, genetically engineered beings who have had human foibles – sexual jealousy, aggression, sarcasm – bred out of them.
The relationship between Toby, a naturalist, and Zeb, whose adventurous past makes him an object of hero-worship to the Crakers, is the focus. The couple lead the survivors as they resist gladiatorial mutants and build a new world for themselves amid the ruins of the old.
Though Atwood’s trilogy might be read as allegory, it is anchored throughout by her keen eye for detail: her blasted planet is both a symbol of environmental collapse and a vividly imagined landscape in which derelict buildings are “invaded by the probing green snoutlets of vines”. But MaddAddam ultimately provides a hopeful ending to the saga, with the last humans finding redemption in the act of storytelling.
Review by David Evans
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The Abominable, by Dan Simmons, Sphere RRP£18.99, 672 pages
In the not too distant past, an expedition to one of the world’s most inhospitable, coldest regions is menaced by a mythical monster. That’s the bare-bones summary of Simmons’s 2007 novel The Terror, and also of his latest, The Abominable.
In the former, Sir John Franklin’s disastrous attempt in the mid-1800s to find the Northwest Passage falls foul of a marauding, flesh-eating Inuit demon. The latter centres on a fictional attempt to follow in the snowshoes of Mallory and Irvine’s ill-fated ascent of Mount Everest in 1924 and sees climbers beset by yetis.
Both novels are elephantine and stuffed with far too much research detail, most of it regurgitated in clunky expository dialogue. The mountaineers in The Abominable don’t even reach Everest until a third of the way in, and it’s another couple of hundred pages before any yetis appear.
That said, Simmons pulls a clever feint in the closing section, where things become fairly exciting. It’s a long, arduous slog to the novel’s summit but the view, once you get there, is worth it.
Review by James Lovegrove
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Dream London, by Tony Ballantyne, Solaris RRP£7.99, 404 pages
Since financiers in the Square Mile struck a deal with otherworldly beings, London has succumbed to unnatural change. Buildings grow, parks expand, modern technology fails, new railway lines appear, streets shift position, even mathematics loses its meaning. The city seems to be collapsing into some kind of entropic singularity, its inhabitants losing themselves in orgiastic decadence.
In the thick of it stands Captain James Wedderburn, a former soldier turned pimp, who is an anti-hero as charming as he is disgraceful. Various factions try to enlist him to spearhead a revolution against the shadowy figures responsible for London’s ruin but can he trust anyone in a place where loyalty is a mutable commodity?
Dream London is a sweetly dark satire shot through with Occupy-era indignation and a bizarre dream logic in which everything makes sense as long as you accept that nothing makes sense. This is as strange and unclassifiable a novel as it’s possible to imagine, and a marvellous achievement.
Review by JL
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