Once Upon A Wolvog

Stories from the front lines


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What’s in a Name?

It’s a long- held idea that names carry with them meaning, along with a sort of determination or prediction of the character of the person it’s associated with. The thing that made me curious is that usually our names are given to us as children long before we have developed any sort of personality; yet in Maddaddam and the other books, many people are referred to by names that were picked for or by them at a much later age. This made me wonder to what extent the Maddaddam names relate to their respective characters.

Jimmy/Thickney

The Thicknee, or Bush-stone Curlew, is a bird found in Australia. Apart from it’s ‘remarkable courtship dance’ (we are all well aware of Jimmy’s ability to attract girlfriends), I found little in the ways of behavioural traits that linked to Jimmy except for Atwood’s description in Oryx and Crake: “a… double jointed bird that used to hang around in cemeteries, -and Jimmy suspected- because Crake liked the sound of it as it applied to Jimmy”. It’s interesting to note that Crake gave Jimmy his Maddaddam name: you could interpret it as the beginning of Crake’s deception. Also, the idea that his extinct animal is found in cemeteries among the dead is a kind of foreshadowing, which could even hint at Jimmy’s future of survival during and after the pandemic, in a global graveyard!

Glenn/Crake

None of the Maddaddam trilogy books really offer an explanation as to why Glenn chose to be Crake; the only thing mentioned is that the Red-Necked Crake is a relatively rare bird species. This could indicate that Crake had a type of superiority complex, though. However, I found indications that a Crake’s behaviour tends to be rather secretive. This is definitely related to Glenn’s behaviour, since throughout the trilogy he comes off to everyone as a rather mysterious person, and never really reveals his plans to anyone. Even the reader is left hanging and we never get a true glimpse into his thought process that led to him wiping out almost all of humanity.

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Toby/Inaccessible Rail

The Inaccessible Rail is yet another bird, except this one is flightless. Toby didn’t put too much thought into her choice, yet when I picked apart the details I was able to find some connections (although some might accuse me of grasping at straws!). One slightly entertaining aspect of Rails is that they’re pretty territorial, and while Toby comes across in general as the wise mother figure to the group, she gets very jealous and protective over Zeb once they start being in a relationship. Similarly, Rails form permanent pair bonds, which again is connected to Zeb who was even convinced to settle down with her. Considering that Zeb introduced Toby to Maddaddam and that they eventually fall in love, Atwood seems to have picked an appropriate creature for her.

Zeb/Spirit Bear

Spirit Bears are a special type of black bear that have a rare gene that makes them white.  As the name suggests, they have a spiritual significance to Native Americans. They are revered and protected, and as such killing them is taboo. This sort of legendary status surrounding them definitely relates to how the Crakers love, respect, and to some extent worship Zeb, in my opinion. I think that it’s also significant that Adam gave Zeb this nickname. It appears to me that it reflects Adam’s perception of Zeb, which would be one of a big brother wanting to protect his little brother; but it could simply be Adam finding a clever way of mocking Zeb’s Bearlift adventures. Regardless, Zeb seems undeniable connected to bears, as he himself admits that his meditation animal was the bear he ate when stranded in the wilderness.

Overall, it seems to me that Atwood was able to cleverly use animals that reflected their characters at least a little. What do you think? Is there truth to this, or is it mere conspiracy? Are there any links to the behaviour and character of Swift Fox, Oryx, Lotis Blue, Ivory Bill, and the rest of the Maddaddamites?

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Anti-don’t: The Problem with Antibiotics

It’s a refrain heard continuously in The Year of the Flood and even more prevalently in Oryx and Crake: Don’t get infected, because it’ll be the end of you. Inevitably, it’s disease that kills the world, and infection that kills Jimmy in a slow, painful death. Despite the continuous referencing to the problems of new diseases and increasingly deadly microbes, I noticed that it wasn’t really mentioned by its true name: antibiotic resistance.

So, what is antibiotic resistance?

It’s a pretty simple concept. When you take an antibiotic, it doesn’t really target a specific bacteria in your system. Instead, it wipes out most of the ones it comes into contact with. Keyword: most. Some bacteria are ‘lucky’ enough to have a genetic mutation that lets them survive this attack. Because they’re not dead, and all the bacteria it was competing with are gone, they can multiply as much as they please.

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Why is this a concern? We have other drugs to kill them, right?

We do! The problem is that these drugs work in the same way. They might kill the ones resistant to lesser drugs, but eventually the same thing will happen.
To make things worse, we’ve plateaued in terms of antibiotic discoveries, and we’re starting to find bacterium resistant to the ‘last resort’ drug in over 10 countries. To add to that, antibiotic resistance is killing 700 000 people per year, and we’re on track to have it wiping out 10 million in 2015! You can read more about this and get a more detailed story of the current situation here.

Orxy and Crake and the Underlying Causes of Resistance

There are two words that can encapsulate why this is becoming a huge problem: Overprescription and Antiseptics.  But let’s look at this through Oryx and Crake‘s world. In the compounds, nearly everything is artificial, and the pursuit of health and youth has led to incessant pill-popping. Everything is also highly sterilized: as a kid, Jimmy had to walk through ‘toxic disinfectants’ in order to prevent getting sick.  This overindulgence is  what kills Jimmy, in an indirect way: he injects himself with one of the most powerful cure-all medications -Crake’s pleeblands vaccine- to fix his infected foot, yet it does nothing. Basically, the over-prescription and consumption of drugs is what makes disease so effective in Atwood’s world- it’s highly evolved and subsequently lethal.

You might be thinking that it’s not an issue today. Surely we don’t consume so many drugs to make it like in the book?

Well, the reality is debatable, but some facts make it pretty clear. Some estimates put overprescription for illnesses as banal as sore throats as high as 60%, and the food industry alone uses over 63 000 metric tons of antibiotics. Doesn’t sound so insignificant now, does it?

Why aren’t the Pleeblanders Affected as much as Compounders?

I also noticed that antibiotic resistance and infection were a huge concern for the Compound people, but it wasn’t really a serious issue amongst pleeblanders. In The Year of the Flood, non-compounders are concerned with disease, but they don’t take measures as drastic as the compounders. They certainly don’t need vaccines just to go visit someplace, like Jimmy and Crake do!

The answer is a bit ironic, but studies done even today are confirming this: exposure, rather than sterility, is the best medicine for the prevention of allergies, asthma, and even potentially disease. If you play in the dirt, you’re exposing your immune system to (usually) low-grade irritants and infections, which builds up an effective response. This “training” helps when you confront something more serious; your body is more likely to fight it off. Tragically, the compounders are obsessed with fighting this reality, and because of their sterile world they depend on fallible drugs to keep them healthy.

If they all lived like the God’s Gardeners, would they be able to avoid this ultimate downfall? Or has Atwood’s world (and indeed our own) been twisted past the point where our natural systems can compensate for our artifice? But what we can say for certain is that in the long run, the cure-all isn’t always the true cure, whether it’s through resistance, or a corporation looking to deliberately infect people for the sake of profit.

Sources:
https://qz.com/657514/superbugs-could-kill-10-million-people-by-2050-if-a-lot-of-things-dont-change-fast/
http://www.theverge.com/2015/9/3/9256955/allergies-asthma-farm-kids-dust-endotoxins-a20
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-your-kids-should-eat-dirt-2016-06-15