When writer Margaret Atwood looks into the future, it's never good.
In The Handmaid's Tale, women in a totalitarian society are only valued for their fertility. Now in Oryx and Crake, Snowman -- ranting, wrapped in a bedsheet -- may be all that remains of the human race. Before the apocalypse he was a boy named Jimmy, puzzled by the adults in his corporate-run "town" who longed for a better time: Remember when you could fly anywhere in the world, without fear?... Remember when voting mattered? The beaches were gone -- along with a few cities -- and once the rains stopped, "Lake Okeechobee had shrunk to a reeking mud puddle and the Everglades had burned for three weeks straight." Most animal species were extinct, except for the genetically spliced-and-diced creatures used for, say, organ harvesting.
The science of the book isn't too farfetched. "Everything that we have in the book is backed up by the clippings in the brown research box in the cellar," Atwood assures, though she extrapolated her own conclusions. She notes global warming would be a factor in some of the book's disasters, but "you can alter the weather of a region just by cutting down the trees." Clean up the Everglades, she says: "Do it, do it now, if you want to [take] showers in the future.... You don't want Florida to run completely out of water."
The Booker Prize-winning author isn't knocking science -- it's a tool. "It is we who have to take the responsibility for making the choices about what we're going to do with those tools," she says.
Oryxes (large African antelopes) and red-necked crakes (Australian water birds) are actually not extinct -- yet. Atwood notes most species die out after their habitat disappears. "We're working on the giant human parking lot," she says dryly. "We just want someplace to leave the car while we go visit Paradise."