The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

This book is a companion to Oryx and Crake, which I liked so well that I told everyone to read it. No one has, yet, to my knowledge, so someone should get on that because I need to have a nice discussion about just how plausible that speculative future is (since 1984 was obviously bunk...)

So, this is a companion, not a sequel...which means the story lines overlap. It took me a little bit to figure it out and had I done so before starting in on The Year of the Flood, I might have re-read Oryx and Crake. But I did not and I spent a lot of time trying to recall the order of events as they happened there so I could overlay them as they happened here. I think I've sorted it out and I'm quite pleased with the overall story that has been created.

A little plot blurb: both novels are dystopian. They take place in an undisclosed year in the future (the titular year, actually, which is referred to as "Year 25") and I imagine in Canada. The stories are told through a mixture of present narration and flashbacks, and like I said before, it creates a satisfying arc. Atwood scoured news clippings and gleaned the most chilling: cloning, corporate hold over public offices, the growing disparity between the wealthy and the poor...and not just the educated/uneducated, but those who are smart and  those who aren't. She looks at where we are now and follows the thread to a place where I can't imagine most people would like to be.

As I said, it's chilling. Fascinating, and chilling. The story is told from the perspective of two survivors: Toby and Ren so we actually have three points of view for this single tale. Atwood weaves everything together nicely...but leaves off the big bow at the end. I'm usually a fan of not being told what to think, but in this instance an epilogue would have been very nice. Unless she's planning a third book to round out a trilogy. In which case I'm perfectly fine with the lacking bow.

So there you have it. A vague recommendation to read two books that may or may not give you nightmares about where our society is headed. Please do and then we'll come back and have a nice chat regarding the validity of Atwood's speculation.


Enlightenment For Idiots by Anne Cushman

This one would have been a perfect beach read. If you live in a part of the world where the weather is behaving in a seasonally appropriate manner, then this is a nice book to read whilst curled on the couch in front of a fire with a steaming mug of (chai) tea...and a cat on your feet. Cats are the ultimate feet-warmers.

Enlightenment for Idiots is Cushman's debut novel. She is a regular contributor to Yoga Journal so I was already vaguely familiar with her voice and not at all surprised at the hobby and career path of the heroine. Amanda is working on her yoga teaching credentials while writing a series of "... for Idiots" books. While in the past they have been travel-oriented, eg: Napa For Idiots, her editor Maxine has a fabulous idea: send Amanda to India to become enlightened.

I have to admit that there is a bit of a cliche trap: Amanda is in the off-again cycle of a tempestuous relationship with a man she can't help loving. Her bills are piling up and she's staring at 30. She has mad-cap roommates, a best friend who is fully together, and a mother who has failed her. If the book had been more food oriented it would have been white noise and gotten lost in the crowd. Also, the fact that Amanda is so consciously desperate for enlightenment saves us all from having to pretend that she's just there to take in the sights and eat some yummy food.

There's a bit of food, but only as it relates to yogi chores at ashrams and the fact that people have to eat to live and she's in India where eating can be an adventure. More interestingly are the people she meets on the way: A sadhu who refers to himself in the 1st person plural is my favorite and I am satisfied with the way their relationship worked out. Various gurus and fellow enlightenment-seekers pepper Amanda's journey and provide a yardstick against which Amanda (and the readers) measures her life.

All of the advice given to Amanda is sound, and can be removed from its context and applied to your own life - a nice bonus for a Dessert Novel. You may (or may not) be enlightened when you close the book, but if you don't pause and reflect as you read asana* descriptions and quotations from the great Wise Men then you're not really paying attention.

While in danger of being trite at times, Enlightenment for Idiots avoids being a cliche, and lands firmly in enjoyable, heartwarming, and inspiring. If nothing else, it has rekindled my desire to visit India. Enjoy!

*asana = yoga postures.


Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach

So the clip below (and many other places) will have you believe that the best part of this book is the part where she talks about pooping in space. But seriously - that's just one chapter and every part of this book is golden. (Although every time anyone says the word "residue" I will think of poop.)

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Mary Roach
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NASA, apparently, is responsible for many, many daily enjoyments. In a footnote, there is a list. It is not a small one. For example: Natick purees. They were one of the options for food in the space. Puree everything and stick it in a pouch with a spouty-thing at the top. It messed with the astronaut's heads, but I know some toddlers who love their puree pouches when they're on the go. Also: freeze dried ice cream is now "yogurt melts" and available at your local baby food store.

We saw Mary Roach speak at SetiCon (because we are that kind of nerdcore) and I have to say that I'm not proud of my behavior when given the chance to chat with one of my favorite authors. (She on my Dinner for 8 list.) We were sleep deprived and I was more worried about losing my dignity in a word-vomit-explosion of gooeyness.  So instead I clammed up and we exchanged some pleasant-yet-awkward- drivel I (thankfully) can't remember much of. I know we talked about how my son was probably the youngest attendee. And then she signed the book to Baz (who was sleeping in my Beco) and that was awesome. She lives in the Bay Area, so the chances of my seeing her speak again are fairly high and now that I've read the book I can avoid coming across like the village idiot. I hope.

Anyway, back to the book. Roach is what sports-people would call a Super Fan. She asks the questions that most of us are wondering and then takes it a step further and THEN volunteers for that which would make most people go hmm.... (you'll just have to read to find out what, because any more of a hint than that would be a major spoiler and we all know I'm not that kind of girl.)

Read it. Buy it for the space/science/science fiction nut in your life. Trust me.

I leave you with two photos from SetiCon:

My Husband and my child in space ;-)

And the lovely Mary Roach checking her notes (second from left) in the only picture I got where no one is making a weird talking face and there's not motion blur.
 Next time I will have no shame. I am a super fan and I will take lessons from her: come prepared and ask the questions that make most people pause and wonder just how nutty you really are.

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