What Is HBO’s Show Based On Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy About?

Yesterday, news leaked that Darren Aronofsky, a director noted for taking on complex and difficult science fiction movies like Pi and The Fountain, was turning Margaret Atwood’s series of Madaddam novels into an HBO TV series. Which is bold since only fussy academics and literary SF nerds have read the series. Luckily for you, I’m both, so let’s lay these books out.

Help me out here, I know the name Margaret Atwood from somewhere…

You probably know her best from her enormously popular science fiction novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. It got a lot of attention when it was published in the ’80s because basically Atwood took the religious chest-pounding of guys like Jerry Falwell to its obvious conclusion. Namely, everybody but guys like Jerry Falwell get screwed in a society so repressed gay men are hung from fences as “gender traitors” and women aren’t even allowed to read. It was “controversial” and made good news fodder.

So she’s a science fiction author?

Well, that depends on who’s writing the graduate thesis. Most people would argue that Atwood is a “serious novelist,” but she’s got a real taste for science fiction, as you may have guessed. She prefers the term “speculative fiction” for these books, and has managed to pull off getting these books shortlisted for major awards such as the Man Booker Prize, a rarity for such a decidedly genre-specific work.

So what’s the Madaddam series about, exactly, without any spoilers?

The short answer is humanity goes crazy with the genetic engineering, and we manage to wipe ourselves out for the most part. The first book, Oryx & Crake, largely deals with the fallout of that through the eyes of the no-longer-quite human protagonist and the “Crakers” around him. The second, The Year of The Flood, deals with the few remaining actual humans. The finale, MadAddam, ties the two together.

It’s rife with Atwood’s dry humor and taste for the bizarre: Robo mentioned yesterday that Crakers, for example, reproduce by waving their blue wangs around and the females select the best for their orgies.

Ah, so that’s why HBO wants it. What about Aronofsky?

Presumably he wants to scratch an itch Hollywood will no longer let him anywhere near. This is the guy who got Warner Bros. to pay for The Fountain, a tragic love story about Hugh Jackman flying to a nebula in a bubble with a tree that used to be his wife. He’s pretty much the only director with any clout out there who’d even touch this series, forget actually get it made. By the same token, the guy only makes money in theaters when Natalie Portman does Mila Kunis. So HBO probably has some appeal.

Will it be worth watching?

Well, the books are awesome and Aronofsky is jealously protective of the source material that he works on, so yeah, we’re going to say it’ll be awesome. Weird as hell, mind you, but awesome. We’ll likely see it in the 2015-2016 TV season.