Margaret Atwood's latest book, 'MaddAddam,' wraps up a brilliant dystopian trilogy

(Minneapolis) Start TribuneSeptember 28, 2013 

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    Fiction MaddAddam Margaret Atwood

    Nan A. Talese, 416 pages

— Margaret Atwood, a master at creating clever names, is always on the lookout for more. Settling into a cafe chair on a gorgeous August morning in Manhattan’s Bryant Park, she points out a sandwich kiosk called Wichcraft.

“I like that one,” she says. Gracious of her, since it pales in comparison with monikers of the fantastic creatures populating “MaddAddam,” the just-published conclusion to Atwood’s trilogy about a small band of humans – and gentle humanoids – trying to survive after a man-made plague has left the planet in shambles. There are the violent Painballers, former hard-core prisoners now roaming free; pigoons, giant feral swine infused with human DNA, and Mo’ Hairs, sheep bred to grow long tresses in a rainbow of colors.

Atwood has just an hour to spare before gathering up longtime partner Graeme Gibson, who she’s left at the nearby Cornell Club, and heading for a pier in Brooklyn. There, the couple and their two grandchildren are to board the Queen Mary, where she is launching “MaddAddam” on a cruise from New York to London.

At 73, she sports a slate-gray mass of curls framing lively, crinkly eyes and an arch, permanently bemused expression. Though she’s written 14 novels and several dozen other books of poetry, fiction and commentary, as well as winning the Booker Prize and many others, Atwood is more interested in discovery than accolades.

Nowhere is this more evident than in her headlong embrace of the Internet. She’s practically giddy over a new video-game app, “Intestinal Parasites,” that was developed as a tie-in to “MaddAddam.” (One of the characters plays the game, which features eyeless predators that turn your insides into a “festering patty melt.”)

She crowdfunds for Fanado, a new site that helps fans and artists connect. She has recently written online-only fiction for not only Byliner, a site for established authors, but Wattpad, where anyone can publish. She appeared in full goalie gear on YouTube in a hilarious video called “How to Stop a Puck.” Pinterest, Flipboard, you name it, she’s all over it. And she’s quite active on Twitter, with 426,000 followers, and on Facebook.

“Twitter is like having your own little radio show,” she said. “It’s also rather like being at a large, fun party where you don’t know all the guests, and they turn out to come from all corners. And they think people my age don’t understand this stuff.”

In turn, the Internet generation has welcomed her. Atwood’s fan base is growing broader and skewing younger.

“MaddAddam” finishes the story begun in 2003’s “Oryx and Crake” and continued in 2009’s “The Year of the Flood.”

In the near future, a juggernaut of bioengineering and Big Pharma experiments have turned North America into a giant “Island of Dr. Moreau” following a scientist-induced pandemic that nearly wiped out the human race.

Amid all the gloom and doom, Atwood inserts perfectly timed bits of wit. Toby, a main character who narrates much of the book, wonders whether the Mo’ Hair transplants on her head will attract unwanted attention from the rams and decides to “watch herself for signs of sheepishness.”

Atwood has been ahead of the curve in mass-appeal pop fiction. She prefers to categorize her work as “speculative fiction,” saying she depicts events that could possibly happen, whereas science fiction, in her view, focuses on impossible fantasy.

Young adult fiction, in particular, seems to be heading right down the Atwood path. The popularity of “The Hunger Games” and similarly themed series in YA just keeps growing. So why are all so interested in bracing for doomsday now?

“We’re rehearsing,” she said, flashing her cat-who-swallowed-the-canary smile.

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