The MaddAddam Trilogy or what Margaret Atwood made me think about Science in fiction

One thing I should probably get out of the way is that I absolutely love Margaret Atwood. To this day I have not read something by her and not enjoy it. Her work on speculative fiction and science fiction is amazing, in my own opinion. So when my mother-in-law gave me the box set for the MaddAddam trilogy I was unbelievably happy, and I had to force myself to pace my reading (I did have other books to read before) of the whole thing. It was worth the effort since it not only gave me more time to digest all my thoughts, it made the experience last longer.

In the first book we are introduced to Jimmy-The-Snowman, possibly the last human on Earth. Through flashbacks we learn of the past world (still a futuristic world compared to where we are now), his best friend Crake and his lost love Oryx. The second book, told mostly from the view of Toby and Ren, sheds light on the other side of story, outside the compounds and into the plebes. The stories, both past and present, finally merge in MaddAddam, where all the final pieces of the puzzle come to place revealing all details of what happened to Earth and why it came to be what it is now. I am really trying to avoid spoilers here, but trust me, it’s a great story.

All three books are going to tackle subjects such as genetic manipulation, pharma and aesthetic procedures and finally, what pop culture/entertainment has devolved into, having (almost) every whim attended for via the Internet. As has been the case on any other book I’ve read from Atwood, characters are deeply flawed, making them even more human and involving. Unbelievable world building, and once again incredible speculative talent, particularly where it comes to science advances make this trilogy one of my favorites. I would recommend it to all my friends that are in science. If you don’t want any spoilers, this is probably the moment to stop reading.

Here is the thing. As a scientist this trilogy was both incredibly fun to read and nerve-wracking at the same time. Some of the scientific developments she describes, such as the Pigoons or the lab cultured meats, have already happened, albeit to a much smaller scale and so far with very different applications than the ones described in the book. Because I work in the academic/scientific world I am aware of where the research is (to a certain extent) and most of its limitations, even if I don’t work on that direct line of research.

But I have to wonder, what happens when someone’s first “contact” with genetic splicing or modified organisms comes through science fiction. How many of those readers will go and look for the actual science that this speculative fiction is based on? My distress comes from thinking that not many of them do and things like this only serve to fuel an uninformed fear towards what science can/can’t do when modifying genes, developing new drugs, etc.

I’ve already discussed why I think it’s so important for Science Fiction to have good science basis, and this trilogy is a great example of how amazing a piece of fiction can be with the proper scientific research to back it up. But because so many works of science fiction present these bleak and cold outcomes due to misuse of science, I can’t help but wonder how many of the people outside science are afraid of it precisely because of this dystopic panoramas. We could argue that only one “crazy” scientist is the culprit of pushing the tragedy to its final outcome. The point remains that a lot of the things discussed in this trilogy, while plausible, are presented in a scary way, which off course is understandable since we are talking about a dystopian view. I hope you understand the apprehensiveness I get about this being the first view of gene splicing some people will get.

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been trying to think of an example where accurate science has been presented with a brighter view in fiction, and to tell you the truth, I haven’t been able to pinpoint one. This can be due to personal bias, as I do read a fair amount of dystopian fiction, but maybe you can help me out here. I believe that both sides of the coin (the bleak and the bright side of science) should be present in fiction, both for readers with scientific background and without out. I am fairly sure they are out there, I just haven’t found a book with a more cheerful outcome yet. If you have any recommendations, please, leave me a comment!

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