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Margaret Atwood and the “greenest book tour ever.”

September 3, 2009

atwodMargaret Atwood, the Canadian literary novelist who lately has become the prophet of apocalypse, has embarked on “the greenest book tour ever,” beginning by sailing, not flying, to events in England to support her latest novel, The Year of the Flood, reports the Guardian.

Atwood, whose tour will bring her to the Miami Book Fair on Nov. 8, is crossing the Atlantic this very moment on the Cunard ship Queen Mary 2. She vows no air miles will be involved in the extensive tour to support the new novel, a sequel of sorts to Oryx and Crake, her disturbing yet mesmerizing 2003 novel about a catastrophe brought on by commercial genetic engineering.

I assume, then, the Queen Mary 2 is literally under sail, its four 16 -cylinder marine diesel engines and two giant gas turbines silent…

The Year of the Flood, set in the not-too-distant future, follows the events of the previous book, in which most humans died in a deliberately engineered plague. A group of do-gooders, calling themselves God’s Gardners, tries to save a remnant by means of organic agriculture while “the Corporations” burn through the planet’s remaining resources in a relentless drive for profit.

If that sounds like science fiction to you, it does to a lot of other people, too — but not Atwood, who insists that her speculative fictions are merely projections of things already technologically possible, while sci-fi is “fiction in which things happen that are not possible today”.

Ursula K. Le Guinn, a self-professed sci-fi writer and a literary talent by anyone’s estimation, rightly calls Atwood on this “arbitrarily restrictive definition” in a perceptive review, in which she praises the new novel, but insists it would be even more laudable if the author allowed it to be judged “using the lively vocabulary of modern science-fiction criticism.”

Unfortunately, Le Guinn spends a long paragraph gnashing her teeth at Atwood’s “failure to describe” the illness that nearly wiped out humanity. “So, then, the novel begins in Year 25, the Year of the Flood, without explanation of what era it is the 25th year of.” Problem is, anyone who’s read Oryx and Crake knows the answers to these questions. Remember, it’s a sequel.

Back to Atwood’s “greenest tour ever.” The author has set up a swell website,, with a tour blog, links to environmental groups she supports, and the music accompanying the book. Oh, did I mention The Year of the Flood includes hymns sung by God’s Gardners? Of course, they’re actually written by Atwood, who’s had musicians set them to music. Groovy.

Margaret Atwood, as well we all know, at 69 is among the world’s leading novelists. She’s best known for The Handmaid’s Tale (her breakthrough book, and her first foray into what she declines to call science fiction–and for which she won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, a sci-fi prize if ever there was one). She’s the author of 14 novels (any of which is worth reading), as well as short-story collections, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction.

A few years ago, I had the chance to share high tea with Atwood at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, prior to a reading sponsored by Books & Books bookstore. I had in tow a young college professor whose thesis had been on Atwood and who worshiped the author openly and without shame. Atwood proved herself a beguiling combination of gravitas and impish humor, challenging us all –especially her acolyte –with gently barbed comments and questions.

Delighted and invigorated, I left the table with the conviction that the wry smile visible in so many photographs of Atwood indicates something essential about her inner character. So, green or not, her tour will bring her to Miami, where I, for one, will make sure not to miss it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice permalink
    September 3, 2009 10:19 pm

    I’ll make sure I check out this book on my Kendle. Ha!

  2. Candice permalink
    September 3, 2009 10:22 pm

    I meant Kindle.

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