Strange New World

Strange New World

By 

Fatefulness about the survival of the species is not new. Religious thinking has end-time built in, and for most of our sentient life on the planet human­kind has been predominantly religious. That has changed in Westernized countries, but only relatively recently, and alongside advances in scientific knowledge. Our new pessimism no longer depends on a deity to wipe out this wicked world. Since the Manhattan Project, we have learned how to do it ourselves.

Nuclear, ecological, chemical, economic — our arsenal of Death by Stupidity is impressive for a species as smart as Homo sapiens. Yet fire or flood may belong to an Armageddon whose awful grandeur may not be our fate. Plague — unlovely, heroic, unstoppable, might well get us first. That’s what happens in Margaret Atwood’s new novel, “The Year of the Flood,” her latest excursion into what’s sometimes called her “science fiction,” though she prefers “speculative fiction.” If we have to have a label, that’s a better one, since part of Atwood’s mastery as a writer is to use herself as a creative computer, modeling possible futures projected from the available data — in human terms, where we are now.

Her 1985 novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” imagines a United States taken over by God-fearing fundamentalists sick of democracy and civil rights, especially women’s rights. Atwood is chillingly brilliant in depicting the slick twists a technology of freedom can take, shifting ease of access — in this case to financial records and personal information — into theft and surveillance. Overnight, the bank accounts of every woman are transferred to her nearest male relative.

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Credit…Illustration by Sam Weber

In “Oryx and Crake,” published in 2003, Atwood leads us through a bioengineered world where a new species, the Crakers, has been invented by a Dr. Frankenstein figure — Crake — and given a chance at remaking the world, thanks to a near decimation of the human race, also masterminded by Crake. At the end of that novel, we are left in a clearing in the woods with a tribe of bewildered Crakers, a few old-­fashioned human beings and Jimmy the Snowman, who’s wondering whether he should finish off the last of his own kind and leave the whole rotten and rotting show to the nonviolent, unclothed human herbivores cell-created by his best friend, Crake.

That end is also the end of “The Year of the Flood.” Here Atwood has brilliantly re-told her own tale, through other mouths and focusing on different details, showing us how the kids Jimmy and Glenn become the Snowman and Crake, and how an end — or the End — can happen in the name of a new beginning.

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The Waterless Flood has long been predicted by God’s Gardeners, a back-to-nature cult founded by Adam One. Its members live simply and organically, sing terrible hymns, have no dress sense and peddle a bolted-together theology, difficult to think about if you think at all. With values diametrically opposed to those of the ruling CorpSEcorps, the Gardeners aren’t “the answer,” but at least they’ve asked enough questions to avoid a life of endless shopping and face-lifts.

The Gardeners sometimes do evangelical work in the mean streets, known as the pleeblands, or picket a fast-food joint like SecretBurgers because it’s wrong to eat anything with a face. At Secret­Burgers they rescue a young woman named Toby from the murderous clutches of her sex-crazed boss, Blanco the Bloat, and it’s Toby who is one of the central characters in the post-plague part of the story. As a Gardener, Toby rises to the position of Eve Six, in charge of bees, herbs and potions, but Blanco never stops pursuing her, and to save herself, and the group, she receives a new identity in the health spa AnooYoo. Recovering from plastic surgery, she avoids the deadly wipeout germ of the plague.

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Credit…George Whiteside

Less cosmetically, but just as effectively, Ren, a pole dancer at a local sex joint called Scales and Tails, is in an isolation room after a bloody attack by a punter, so she too misses the bio-bug. The women’s past and present stories alternate and inter­twine, bringing to life the world they must survive in — a world where pigs have human brain tissue and sheep are bred with human hair in different colors, silver and purple being hot hits for whole-head implants, providing you don’t mind smelling of lamb chops when it rains.

My favorite Atwood genetic invention is the liobam — a cross between a lion and a lamb, engineered by a lunatic fringe religious group that’s tired of waiting for the prophecy of the lion lying down with the lamb to come true. Their own breed has curly golden hair and long, sharp canines, and will look at you very gently while it rips your throat out — which is pretty much the metaphor for the world of lethal paternalism created by CorpSEcorps.

The sensitive CorpSEcorps elite boy Glenn, who becomes Crake, starts out as a teenage sympathizer for the Gardeners but is too seduced by his own brainpower to trust nature. Like his friend Jimmy, Glenn doesn’t know how to love, and the awkward devotion he feels for the girl he calls Oryx is not returned. Atwood is very good at showing, without judging, what happens when human beings (usually men) cannot love. In the worst of them, like Blanco the Bloat, brutality and sadism take over. In the better of them, like Crake, a utopian desire for perfectability re­places the lost and lonely self. Crake designs out love and romance because he wants to design out the pain and confusion of emotion.

In this strangely lonely book, where neither love nor romance changes the narrative, friendship of a real and lasting and risk-taking kind stands against the emotional emptiness of the money/sex/power/consumer world of CorpSEcorps, and as the proper antidote to the plague-­mongering of Crake and Jimmy, for whom humankind holds so little promise. As ever with Atwood, it is friendship between women that is noted and celebrated — friendship not without its jealousies but friendship that survives rivalry and disappointment, and has a generosity that at the end of the novel allows for hope. Atwood believes in human beings, and she likes women. It is Toby and Ren who take the novel forward from the last page, not the genetically engineered new humans.

Atwood is funny and clever, such a good writer and real thinker that there’s hardly any point saying that not everything in the novel works. Why should it? A high level of creativity has to let in some chaos; just as nobody would want the world as engineered by Crake, nobody needs a factory-finished novel. The flaws in “The Year of the Flood” are part of the pleasure, as they are with human beings, that species so threatened by its own impending suicide and held up here for us to look at, mourn over, laugh at and hope for. Atwood knows how to show us ourselves, but the mirror she holds up to life does more than reflect — it’s like one of those mirrors made with mercury that gives us both a deepening and a distorting effect, allowing both the depths of human nature and its potential mutations. We don’t know how we will evolve, or if we will evolve at all. “The Year of the Flood” isn’t prophecy, but it is eerily ­possible.

THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD

By Margaret Atwood

434 pp. Nan A. Talese / Doubleday. $26.95

Jeanette Winterson’s latest novel is “The Stone Gods.”

THE LUCK OF POLITICS: TRUE TALES OF DISASTER AND OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE Andrew Leigh

THE LUCK OF POLITICS: TRUE TALES OF DISASTER AND OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/the-luck-of-politics-true-tales-of-disaster-and-outrageous-fortune-by-andrew-leigh-9781863957557

“A delightful look at chance and outrageous fortune. In 1968, John Howard missed out on winning the state seat of Drummoyne by just 420 votes. Howard reflects- ‘I think back how fortunate I was to have lost.’ It left him free to stand for a safe federal seat in 1974 and become one of Australia’s longest-serving prime ministers. In The Luck of Politics, Andrew Leigh weaves together numbers and stories to show the many ways luck can change the course of political events. This is a book full of fascinating facts and intriguing findings. Why is politics more like poker than chess? Does the length of your surname affect your political prospects? What about your gender? From Winston Churchill to George Bush, Margaret Thatcher to Paul Keating, this book will persuade you that luck shapes politics – and that maybe, just maybe, we should avoid the temptation to revere the winners and revile the losers. ‘Andrew Leigh takes the simplest idea there is – luck – and threatens to remake your basic understanding of politics with it. Then he succeeds. Lucky for us.’ Waleed Aly ‘It’s rare to find a politician prepared to acknowledge the role of luck – sheer chance – in political success and failure. Andrew Leigh doesn’t just acknowledge it, he interrogates it, using fascinating historical anecdotes to illustrate his tale.’ Lenore Taylor”

Andrew Leigh

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Dr Andrew Leigh
Andrew Leigh 2017.jpg

Leigh in 2017
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Fenner
Assumed office
2 July 2016
Preceded by New seat
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Fraser
In office
21 August 2010 – 2 July 2016
Preceded by Bob McMullan
Succeeded by Division abolished
Personal details
Born
Andrew Keith Leigh

3 August 1972 (age 47)
Sydney, Australia

Nationality Australian
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) Gweneth
Children 3 sons
Residence Canberra, Australia
Alma mater University of Sydney
Harvard Kennedy School
Occupation Politician
Profession Lawyer, academic, political adviser
Website andrewleigh.com

Andrew Keith Leigh (born 3 August 1972) is an Australian politician, author, and former professor of economics at the Australian National University. He has been a Labor member of the Australian House of Representatives since 2010 representing the seat of Fraser until 2016 and Fenner thereafter. He briefly served as the Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2013 and then served as Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Shadow Minister for Competition from 2013 to 2019. Leigh is not a member of any factions of the Labor Party.

Prompt Day 10: What was the best book you read in 2019? What did you like about it? #Manifest20

I like to mention here three books I did read one year ago and that made quite an impression on me.  Last year I copied some details about these books without mentioning my own opinion about any of the books. But as an introduction to the first book I wrote:

DI MORRISSEY seems to be my favourite author at the moment. The most recent book of hers that I read is: “The Winter Sea”.

Peter said, I should write something about what I felt about these books.

So, the first thing that came to mind is that in each book there are some main characters that I feel very comfortable with. And of course there are some other characters that I would not feel very comfortable with but even the more ‘bad’ characters do have a few likable features. That means the characters feel quite real to me.

In each of the three books there are some male/female relationships that are great to read about. In each book there are some rather strong female characters. But even these very strong females do like a good man a lot! Despite a number of difficulties all these females end up with simply good men –  at least for a while.

‘The Winter Sea’ novel by Di Morrissey is for the most part set into an environment that I am very familiar with. It deals with a family history that encompasses nearly one hundred years and shows what happens to immigrants to Australia that come from different backgrounds, for instance Italian and Irish.

Greg Iles is a New York Times bestselling author. He wrote BLOOD MEMORY. Cat (Catherine) Ferry is a most interesting character. It shows what may happen to a person that has been abused as a child.

Well, the third book ‘THE GOOD DAUGHTER’ by Karin Slaughter, is a very well written book too. There are actually wo daughters, both of them I see as main characters. To my mind both are ‘good’ daughters, even though they are totally different. Maybe one is more the good daughter of the father, the other one the good daughter of the mother. So which counts for more?

The following three links to my auntielive site show you some interesting details  about the three above mentioned books:

https://auntielive.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/books-i-read-in-november-december-2018/

https://auntielive.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/continued-from-books-i-read/

https://auntielive.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/continued-from-books-i-read-2/

A Short Summary of the three Books I read in Nov/Dec 2018

Last year I wrote about these three books on my ‘auntielive’ site.

https://auntielive.wordpress.com/2018/12/23/summary-of-three-books/

https://auntielive.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/books-i-read-in-november-december-2018/

https://auntielive.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/continued-from-books-i-read/

https://auntielive.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/continued-from-books-i-read-2/

I copy here some of my short summary about these three books. It helps me to have another look at what I wrote about these books, meaning it helps me a lot in memorising these books!

In each book there are some main characters that I feel very comfortable with. And of course there are some other characters that I would not feel very comfortable with but even the more ‘bad’ characters do have a few likable features. That means the characters feel quite real to me.

In each of the three books there are some male/female relationships that are great to read about. In each book there are some rather strong female characters. But even these very strong females do like a good man a lot! Despite a number of difficulties all these females end up with simply good men –  at least for a while.

The Winter Sea book by Di Morrissey is for the most part set into an environment that I am very familiar with, namely the South Coast of NSW, Australia.  It deals with a family history that encompasses nearly one hundred years and shows what happens to immigrants to Australia that come from different backgrounds, for instance Italian and Irish.

Greg Iles is a New York Times bestselling author. He wrote BLOOD MEMORY. Cat (Catherine) Ferry is a most interesting character. It shows what may happen to a person that has been abused as a child.

Well, the third book ‘THE GOOD DAUGHTER’ by Karin Slaughter, is a very well written book too. Two daughters are actually very main characters. To my mind they are both ‘good’ daughters even though they are totally different. Maybe one is more the good daughter of the father, the other one the good daughter of the mother. So which counts for more?

Favorite Children’s Books

Please go to my other site here to read about my favorite children’s books:

https://auntielive.wordpress.com/2019/01/06/favorite-childrens-books-part-three/



What would Jesus do about tax and government spending?

https://www.smh.com.au/business/the-economy/what-would-jesus-do-about-tax-and-government-spending-20180401-p4z7ah.html

 

By ROSS GITTINS

It’s Easter, so let me ask you an odd question: have you noticed how arguments about governments’ intervention in the economy – should they, or shouldn’t they – often rely on an appeal to Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan?

No, me neither. Until I read a little book called, The Political Samaritan: How Power Hijacked a Parable, by Nick Spencer, of the British religion-and-society think tank, Theos.

This is my take on what I read.

Polling in 2015 by the British Bible Society found that 70 per cent of respondents claimed to have read or heard the parable, but in case you missed that day at Sunday school, I’ll summarise.

One day a lawyer trying to trap Jesus quoted the Old Testament law to “love your neighbour as yourself”, but asked, who is my neighbour?

Jesus replied with a story. A man was travelling down a road when he was attacked by robbers and left half-dead. A priest came down the road and saw the man, but passed by on the other side. So did a religious functionary.

But next came a Samaritan who took pity on the man, bound his wounds and took him to an inn, where he looked after him. Next day the Samaritan paid the innkeeper to look after the man until he was well.

Then Jesus asked the lawyer which of the three was a neighbour to the man who’d been robbed. “The one who had mercy on him,” the lawyer replied. Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise”.

Politicians have been using this parable to support their arguments at least since British evangelicals were campaigning for the abolition of slavery in the early 1800s. Martin Luther King spoke about the parable at length in his last sermon before he was assassinated in 1968.

George W Bush spoke about it, as did Hillary Clinton. But it’s been a particular favourite of the British Labour Party.

Early in his establishment of New Labour, Tony Blair said: “I am worth no more than anyone else, I am my brother’s keeper [an allusion to Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis], I will not walk by on the other side. We are not simply people set in isolation from one another . . . but members of the same family, same community, same human race. This is my socialism.”

Blair’s successor as British prime minister, Gordon Brown, son of a Presbyterian minister, said “we are prepared to spend money to help the unemployed; we are not going to walk by on the other side, we are going to help them.’’

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, Brown said: “In a crisis what the British people want to know is that their government will not pass by on the other side, but will be on their side.”

So, to politicians on the left, the Good Samaritan is the all-purpose justification for state intervention to help anyone anywhere with a problem. It’s about collective responsibility and collective action.

To a politician like Margaret Thatcher, however, it’s about precisely the opposite. The Good Samaritan was an individual; he saw someone with a problem and he acted to help them. He didn’t tell the government to do something about it.

People shouldn’t hand over to the state all their personal responsibility. Point one.

Point two: the Samaritan needed money to be able to help the half-dead man, and he had it. But the more we’re taxed, the less we have to discharge our personal responsibility to others.

So what was Jesus really saying? First, according to Spencer, he was reacting against the lawyer’s legalism.

Jesus was concerned with following the spirit of the law, not exploiting its letter. And he was saying the law of neighbourly love is the key commandment which, in cases of conflict, overrides other commandments.

The Samaritan was from an ethnic group the other people in the story despised. So neighbours aren’t just the people in our street, our friends, our fellow Australians, they’re everyone, including those we don’t know or don’t like. The parable is relevant to our treatment of other races and asylum seekers.

The world has changed a lot in the 2000 years since the parable was spoken, so I think we should be wary of assuming it speaks definitively about every modern practice. It doesn’t explicitly authorise compulsory state redistribution of income from rich to poor, nor is it condemned. It doesn’t even give the tick to organised charities.

Conservatives are right to emphasise that our personal responsibility for others is fundamental. But I think supporters of collective action may claim that it’s consistent with the spirit of the parable.

Ross Gittins is the Herald’s economics editor 

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Recent comments

  • mitch of ACT
    @sh5 & Bazza, Your skepticism about the actual existence of Jesus must be shared by those who espouse all that is good …
  • SlowBob
    It wouldn’t matter what Jesus said. Some one with a clever accountant would be able to construe His words any way the…

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Ross Gittins

Ross Gittins is economics editor of the SMH and an economic columnist for The Age. His books include Gittins’ Guide to Economics, Gittinomics and The Happy Economist.