Saturday, January 12, 2019

Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts

Before I read the book, I wrote this:

I like living in an industrial civilization. I like living indoors and not having to gather, harvest, or hunt my own food. I like having electronic devices and the Internet. I like the fact that air travel to almost anywhere in the world is at least moderately affordable. I like all these things, and I would like them to continue indefinitely into the future.

And that is why we need to minimize the effects of climate change on human civilization and make every effort to keep our planet’s ecosystems vibrant and healthy, and we must allow every human to have a meaningful stake in our civilization, and not have a permanent underclass of exploited workers anywhere in the world.

I really hope environmental calamity, together with social inequality and instability, doesn’t ruin everything I selfishly want!

Now, will this book address my fears?


Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn Addicts
by Leigh Phillips, 2015

As it turns out, yes, Leigh Phillips’ book is relevant to what I wrote above. Through occasionally angry, often colorful prose, Phillips tears into environmental rhetoric and solutions that he calls “a series of romantic proposals from the green left that at best to very little to deal with the issue and at worst are counterproductive -- climate change is too grave a crisis to leave it to the greens” (p. 5).

Phillips is a left-wing socialist who is deeply frustrated with the current state of lefty rhetoric when it comes to environmentalism and technology. He criticizes many modern-day leftists for embracing an anti-technology and anti-growth ideology, which he sees as actively harmful to the pro-human-being values that left-wing politics ought to hold paramount.  

“Collapse porn” is how Phillips characterizes material catering to the idea that we’d be better off if industrial civilization just fell apart and we all went back to living on the land. Granted, people have been grumbling down this road ever since the first stirrings of industrialization, but Phillips is concerned that this way of thinking is becoming way too prevalent today, when in fact we need technology and economic development to avert (or deal with) the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

I’m personally unfamiliar with the books and ideology that he characterizes as “collapse porn”, so I was forced to take his evaluation largely on trust, but the rhetorical points he makes against this way of thinking are striking. Economic “degrowth”, he writes, cannot be differentiated from the economic austerity that leftists correctly despise -- they are the same thing. In response to Naomi Klein (a frequent target of his throughout the book), he says her “degrowth arguments stand opposed to the interests of working people, and are a barrier to labour’s advance” (p. 28). Comparing the proposals of various “collapse porn” fans, he asks if we need to scale ourselves back to the 1970s? The seventeenth century? The stone age? The answer “appears more to be based on aesthetic affinity rather than any evidence of resource equilibrium” (p. 21). And towards the end of the book, he reminds us that anti-modern rhetoric can also be a tool of right-wing authoritarian governments.

He also attacks what he sees as the left’s fetishization of the local and the small-scale. When it comes to food supply, localism is often more damaging to the environment, not less. For one thing, it results in less efficient use of land than more intensive agriculture; for another, the production of food has a much larger energy appetite than the transportation of it, so localism has limited benefits. His conclusion is that “localism is ultimately presenting the instant gratification and easy option of ethical consumerism as a solution rather than the hard, years-long slog of society-wide organization for structural change” (p. 128).

Phillips criticizes the common claim that we humans have overshot the Earth’s carrying capacity, as it’s not the vague group “humans” who are to blame -- by doing so, you ignore class differences. Phrases such as “per capita consumption” contain absolutely no useful information and obscure the differences between rich and poor. This rhetoric can inadvertently hide the true causes of environmental damage. For instance, he opines that it’s misleading to characterize the 2010 BP oil spill as the result of an exploding human population’s insatiable demand for oil; rather, it was the result of irresponsible decisions made in BP executive offices, and blame should be assigned accordingly.

Calling the left’s obsession with collapse “a politics of despair” (p. 131), he feels we are at risk of succumbing to the sense that building a better future just won’t work. (This echoes very similar sentiments in Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists.) If we celebrate the collapse of industrial civilization, it’s because we can’t imagine any realistic alternative. We’re still submitting to the dominant paradigm.

Phillips argues that some level of alteration of Earth’s environment is inevitable -- we simply cannot go back to some imagined state of nature without bringing widespread misery and death to literally billions of people. So we must develop technological solutions to minimize the effects of climate change and provide the people of Earth with the means to live meaningful lives.

He is unabashedly pro-technology, and slams left-wing activists who reflexively shun nuclear power and GMOs. He points out that it’s long been a common position on the left that “technologies used in the context of colonialism and exploitation in another political and economic context could be liberatory” (p. 156), and says the left must embrace scientific and technological innovation again.

I find it difficult to evaluate Phillips’ economic arguments, as I don’t have the requisite knowledge. He argues for a democratically planned economy, without going into the details of exactly what that would look like. I get the feeling that he’d say it’s on me to educate myself -- which is fair enough.

As for his environmental stance: “to put it bluntly, the goal can only be to maximize human flourishing”. Environmentalism shouldn’t be about saving the Earth (whatever that means), it should be about saving ourselves. If you were to dip into this book at random, you might come away with the mistaken impression that Phillips thinks we shouldn’t worry so much about the environment -- but this would be a terrible misunderstanding. His stance reminds me of the following cartoon:

From Humon Comics

Click on the comic to read the fine print.

It also reminded me of Charles C. Mann's recent book The Wizard and the Prophet -- well OK, I haven't read the book yet, but here's Mann's 12-minute TED talk, which is basically a trailer for the book.

To tell the truth, there are several areas, from economics to science, where I feel my lack of knowledge very keenly and I don't feel qualified to comment on Phillips' ideas. But I can definitely reiterate what I said in the beginning, that I like industrial civilization and I want it to continue. What I don't want, in the words of cartoon Gaia above, is for humans to fuck themselves over big-time.




Sunday, December 16, 2018

Null States


Null States
by Malka Older, 2017

Book two of Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle. It’s the second half of the 21st century, and most people live in centenals: political units of 100,000 people each, who democratically elect their chosen government every 10 years from a panoply of choices.

The Centenal Cycle has gotten under my skin -- in a good way -- more than most fiction works I’ve been reading lately. Its world of centenals, and global governments that compete for the right to govern them, feels like something new, not just familiar extrapolations from current geopolitical trends. It’s like a very well-done thought experiment, but Older’s succeeded in populating the world with well-written characters that fully inhabit it.

(By the way, I have not yet opened book three, State Tectonics, and so every bit of this post is written in perfect ignorance of what happens in it.)

Two years after the events of Infomocracy, we begin in Darfur, where emissaries of the planetwide network known as Information have arrived to meet with a local governor, but find themselves witnessing an assassination instead. Our main protagonist is Roz, an Information agent who’d been a prominent secondary character in the first book. The investigation into the murder involves untangling the political situation in Darfur: who wanted the governor dead?

Meanwhile, two of the stars of Infomocracy are crisscrossing Eurasia. Mishima used to be a full-time Information employee, but now she’s doing freelance analysis work based out of Saigon. Ken was a Policy1st operative, but he’s left his old organization now that it’s the global Supermajority -- the most powerful government worldwide. Now they’re both hopping round the hemisphere, with only time for an occasional romantic rendezvous, dealing with the residual scandals of the old Supermajority government Heritage and the ramifications of an expanding war in central Asia.

Of course, everything is connected, and Mishima and Ken find themselves drawn into the expanding Darfur investigation. Something low-key that I like about this series is that our main protagonists are primarily analysts. There’s some old-fashioned violence, and a couple of action scenes, but Older is very clear that our heroes spend a huge amount of their time bent over screens, and they are all very competent at their jobs, and while we never get too deep into the number-crunching aspect of what they do, the narrative never loses sight of it either.

A few months ago I read and wrote about Infomocracy, and I am embarrassed to re-read that post now, as what I didn’t think worth mentioning then is exactly what becomes important in the subsequent book. “Imagine there’s no countries,” I said in my flippant way, but I shouldn’t have, as the world of The Centenal Cycle still has some traditional countries. Saudi Arabia’s one, as we learn in the first book. We see in the second book that Switzerland’s another. And there’s still a rump Chinese state, with its capital at Xi’an. And there are still nation-states in Central Asia -- Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have gotten into a shooting war that threatens to spiral out of control and drag surrounding centenals in.

These are the null states of the title. At least, that’s how Information sometimes refers to them, a bit snarkily. In my review of Infomocracy, I called Information “an independent entity that has apparently replaced the news media”. That’s not wrong, but it’s also much more than that.

The people of this world are so connected that we humans of the 2010s look ridiculous by comparison, with our clumsy, clunky “smartphones” and other “gadgets”. These people are plugged into the online world to such a degree that it borders on telepathy, as they wear miniaturized computers 24/7 that they can control with eyeball movements and they tap out messages with their fingers onto virtual keyboards. AI has become good enough to understand real-time speech with all the nuance, and honest-to-goodness universal translators that actually work well are now standard.

And they are constantly plugged into Information. Reading something -- anything -- in the “real” world? If you like, Information will helpfully annotate it with explainers, context, and fact-checking. Need video of something that happened in a public place? Fortunately, we’re all under constant Information surveillance. This is why the surviving old-timey states are nicknamed null states -- Information doesn’t have its usual level of sophisticated data on them.

This is likely to sound horribly dystopian to many of us, but we readers aren’t being pushed to see it as such. Older never insists that this world should be seen as a dystopia. All of the viewpoint characters are so accustomed to Information and this hyper-connectivity that they see it as the natural order of things, and so we readers will find ourselves doing so as well.

Within the narrative there are “outsider” characters who resist Information’s panopticon world, vindicating those readers who see it as nightmarish. For instance, there’s one very small government in this world that has ideological objections to Information surveillance, and one of its citizens is a minor character who gives her land’s point of view a voice. I can think of many ways the Centenal system is better than what we’ve got right now, and many arguments why Information as presented here is a positive thing. And yet, the downsides are real, not least the potential for malfeasance. Bad people can exploit this system in so many new and ingenious ways.

As I noted in my review of the first book, Older never delves into how we got from our world to the Centenal system, and I think it's wise of her to present this world to us readers as a fait accompli. If I were to speculate, I suspect some elites might be receptive to such a radical re-organization of political power as long as they’d continue to be the elites under the new system, but they’d have to be spooked into doing so under threat of chaos and violence and annihilation. Older does make a brief fleeting reference to large-scale wars that took place in the final years of the pre-Centenal system -- and so I wonder if there are bustling cities in our universe that our globe-trotting heroes in the Centenal Cycle never visit because they are now radioactive rubble.

I read Null States shortly before the local elections here in Taiwan, and so I naturally pondered what sort of government I’d be living under in this universe. I imagine there’d be some sort of patriotic Formosa government, but as I live in a politically very “blue” area of Taipei, they probably wouldn’t win my centenal. There’s a good chance my area would go for the global technocrats of Policy1st, but I could also see the center-right Heritage government doing very well here, at least before they sank under scandals at the end of Infomocracy. (The Heritage-built Tokyo-Taipei tunnel in that book implies they had a presence here.) Or the commercially-oriented Chinese-dominated government called 888 would also be a strong possibility. They wouldn’t be my first choice, but I would deal with it. On the other hand, if my centenal elected 1China, I would be very unhappy. Actually, I’m very curious how cross-strait relations have evolved in this universe.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Taiwan Politics for the Novice: December 2018 Edition

Note to readers: The following is my own flippant, heavily biased brief introduction to Taiwan party politics for the absolute newcomer. I saw a niche that needed to be filled so I filled it. I deliberately made it brief. It is not meant to be academic, comprehensive, or super-detailed. If you want that, look somewhere else.

What is the ROC?

The Republic of China, the official name of the government. There is a lot of history behind why this country, full of people who don’t want to be ruled by Beijing, is called the "Republic of China". And while this history is well worth reading up on, I won't go into it here. Here’s my own explainer about why “Taiwan (Republic of China)” is acceptable but “Taiwan, China” is not.

Where shall we begin?

Taiwan's certainly got the left/right political spectrum that you see elsewhere, but thanks to the country’s unique circumstances, it gets subsumed beneath what’s often called a “green”/”blue” polarity. Briefly, the “green” side emphasizes a Taiwanese cultural identity, while the “blue” side emphasizes a more Chinese identity.

It is important to note that, even among the staunchly “blue”, the vast majority of people would be horrified to wake up and find Taiwan had become a province of the People’s Republic of China, and anyone who tells you differently is either misinformed, or trying to misinform you.


What is the DPP?

The biggest political party on the “green” side of the spectrum.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was founded in 1986, in the waning years of Taiwan’s military dictatorship. It coalesced from the various groups opposing the ruling regime. In 2000 they won the presidency; President Chen Shui-bian (who I will henceforth call “A-Bian”) ran Taiwan until 2008. A-Bian eventually ended up spending time in prison for corruption.

A-Bian is out of prison now, but he is no longer the influential force in Taiwan politics he once was, as the current crop of DPP leaders have every intention of moving on from his era.

The DPP came roaring back in wave elections in 2014 and 2016, and as of right now, late 2018, the DPP controls the presidency and the single-chamber legislature, the Legislative Yuan. However, they were punished by voters in the local elections of November 2018, and now they’re feeling quite shaken and nervous about the upcoming general election in January 2020.


What is the KMT?

The biggest fish on the “blue” side of the spectrum.

While the DPP formed in opposition to the old military dictatorship, the Kuomintang (KMT) ran the old military dictatorship. The modern-day KMT is directly descended from Chiang Kai-shek’s political organization back when he was the biggest fish over in China (and Taiwan was ruled by Japan). After Chiang lost China, the KMT ensconced themselves in Taiwan (no one cared whether this was OK with the people already living here) and they ran the one-party state that ruled Taiwan until the dictatorship gradually gave way to democracy in the 1990s.

Nowadays, the KMT wants us all to move on from its military dictatorship, “retake the Mainland” past, and would like us to see it as a modern political party. For example, they would like to brand themselves as better for the economy than the DPP. Whether there is indeed hard evidence that they are actually better for the economy than the DPP is another matter entirely.

Following A-Bian’s eight years in power, Taiwan was run for another eight years, 2008 to 2016, by KMT president Ma Ying-jeou and a KMT-controlled legislature. Prior to becoming president, Ma had a public reputation as an anti-corruption crusader, emblematic of a dynamic younger generation of KMT politicians. For much of his administration, Ma stressed the economic benefits his policies were purportedly bringing to Taiwan.

However, few things make Taiwanese voters dislike you as much as having you run the Taiwanese government, and now Ma Ying-jeou is not fondly remembered by most Taiwanese, including a sizable proportion of those who voted for him twice. He tends to be seen as someone who would happily sell out Taiwan to China. Let’s move on to….

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

Who are the Sunflowers?

The Sunflowers do not constitute a political party. In fact, maybe that should be “did not”, not “do not”. When historians 100 years from now write about this period of Taiwan’s history, they may say the Sunflower movement was well and truly over by 2018.

But the Sunflowers are part of how Taiwan got to where it is today, so I’m going to give them a brief mention.

In 2014, anger over KMT pressure to push through a trade deal with China that was widely seen as selling out Taiwan sparked several weeks of massive protests, mostly peaceful (with some exceptions), that most famously centered on a weeks-long occupation of the Legislative Yuan by activists. This is what we call the Sunflower Movement.

The Sunflowers are strongly associated with the elections of November 2014 and January 2016, in which the KMT was heavily punished by voters. The DPP reaped the benefits of this, as they had the resources and party organization to take advantage, but it would be a mistake to conflate the Sunflowers with the DPP.

When I say Sunflowers, read it as shorthand for “Taiwanese people, mostly young, who have a strong Taiwanese identity and resist attempts to sell their country out to China”. They also tend to favor what Westerners consider socially progressive politics. Their interests tend to dovetail with those of the DPP on that first point, and rather less so on the second.


What is the NPP?

Taiwan has a lot of small parties, most of which are referred to in English with their 3-letter abbreviations (PFP, TSU, and so on). I’m just going to mention the NPP, or New Power Party, as its fortunes appear to be rising in 2018.

The NPP was founded in 2015 by Sunflowers and Sunflower-sympathetic politicians, and while it’s not the only small party to be roughly aligned with the Sunflower goals, it has had by far the most electoral success. Its members tend to skew young. With the new crop of city councillors elected in November 2018, I suspect the average NPP elected official is now younger than me (and it's highly disconcerting for me that I'm now at the age where I'm older than many elected officials). While I don’t know if the NPP will necessarily still exist as a party in 20 years, it will certainly have a lasting influence on Taiwan politics.

What happened in November 2018?

Local elections happened, that’s what. In the local elections, voters go to the polls to select mayors, county chiefs, city councillors, and neighborhood chiefs. The DPP didn’t do so well in these elections; notably, the mayorships in Taichung and Kaohsiung flipped to the KMT.

There were also an absolutely messy set of referendums. Long story short, the most notable result of the referendums was the rejection of same-sex marriage, which disappointed and infuriated socially progressive Taiwanese.

When I say “Long story short”, I’m not kidding. There’s a lot that I elided. For more details, see Taiwan Asked Voters 10 Questions. It Got Some Unexpected Answers in the New York Times, Taiwan Elections 2018: The New Referendum Law and the Rejection of the DPP in Taiwan Insight, and Energy policy and referenda, by the same author as the Taiwan Insight article, on the Frozen Garlic blog.

Photo: Ann Wang, Reuters

Who is Tsai Ing-wen?

The president of Taiwan. She was also the leader of the DPP, until she stepped down to take responsibility for her party’s disappointing showing in the November 2018 election.

The second DPP president, Tsai puts forward a very different public image from A-Bian. When Taiwanese voters like her, they tend to characterize her as a wise, careful leader who won’t sell the country out to China. When they don’t like her, they see her as overly cautious and indecisive. For instance, many social progressives are furious with her because they see her support for same-sex marriage as disastrously tepid, at a time when it really mattered.

It’s important to note that Taiwanese people love to hate on incumbent politicians, and if you hear loads of frustration directed Tsai's way between now and the January 2020 elections, that does not necessarily mean she’s fated to lose. Lots of people are going to hate on her and then vote for her. It’s the Taiwanese way.


Photo: South China Morning Post

Who is Ko Wen-je?

The mayor of Taipei, a political independent, and one of the most prominent politicians in Taiwan. A medical doctor and National Taiwan University professor, Ko’s public image is of a rumpled middle-aged absent-minded academic who wouldn’t know how to be flashy and polished if his life depended on it.

Ko came to power in the anti-KMT wave election of 2014. His nerdy, straight-talking persona appealed to young people fed up with traditional politicians, including most of the Taipei-based Sunflowers. The DPP saw the Ko wave that was building, and wisely decided not to field a mayoral candidate in Taipei. Ko defeated his tepid KMT opponent in a landslide.

As mayor, Ko’s inability to control the pipe from his brain to his mouth has alienated many of his supporters. The guy's got a tendency to make weird male chauvinist remarks. He also has made unnervingly pro-China comments, to the consternation of many people. After all, Ko was originally elected with the support of people who wanted Taiwan to be more cautious towards China.

In the 2018 election, the DPP ran a candidate and many predicted Ko would lose badly in a three-way race, but on election day he very narrowly edged out his KMT opponent to win a second term.

Now it seems highly probable that Ko, with his loose mouth and uncertain stance on China, is considering a presidential run in 2020.

I’m going to mention one more politician in this post. A Taiwan politics aficionado from this past summer, reading this post via a time warp, is likely to think something like, “Huang Kuo-chang? Probably not. Lai Ching-te? Nah. It’s Freddy, right? You’re going to say something about Freddy!”

You dear, sweet, naive person from a more innocent time. Things have changed in the past few months, and everyone who spent October and November 2018 in Taiwan knows damn well who’s coming next.

Photo: Lin Hsin-de, Taipei Times

Who is Han Kuo-yu?

There was a time, just a few months ago, when Han Kuo-yu was best remembered for when he literally beat up A-Bian that one time back in the 1990s.

Later on, he worked in an agricultural wing of the government, which is why he’s embracing cabbages in the picture above. That’s from when he announced his candidacy for head of the KMT in 2017. (He lost.)

And that’s where things stood a few months ago, when the KMT nominated Han to be mayor of Kaohsiung. Han threw himself into the race with far more energy (and money) than anyone anticipated. He organized huge rallies that attracted media attention. He went on a nationwide advertising blitz. I saw his face plastered on signs all over Taipei, which is normal for a Taipei candidate but unprecedented for a Kaohsiung candidate.

He also was known for making vague and probably infeasible promises for how he would make Kaohsiung great again (no red MKGA hats, as far as I know), and rumors swirled about possible ties to China.

And in the end he won, defeating a competent but colorless DPP opponent in an election that prompted more than a few comparisons to the rise of a certain current President of the United States of America.

Part of me wonders if this was really the plan. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Han had figured he would lose this election, but in the process lay the groundwork for a 2020 presidential run. He’s certainly done a good job differentiating himself from the blandness of the rest of the KMT.

I don’t see a Han 2020 presidential campaign happening now. The election’s in January 2020, not November, so Han would have to drop everything awfully soon to start campaigning. (Ko Wen-je, on the other hand, is already established in the job and has a record to run on, so I can absolutely see him launching a 2020 campaign.) At the moment, Han is the hottest politician in Taiwan. Will we one day see President Han Kuo-yu? Or will November 2018 be the high point of his career? I do not know.

ROOKIE MISTAKES

Following are some thoughts that commentators (and online commenters) with a surface-level familiarity with Taiwan politics seem to express. They tend to be the sort of thing that makes sense if you know a little bit about Taiwan but don’t really know enough to see nuance.

Hey, there's nothing to be ashamed of. "I know a little bit but not really enough to see nuance" is how much I know about an awful lot of countries.

Rookie mistake #1: The idea that Chen Shui-bian is far more prominent in 2018 than he actually is. Think of the power and influence that George W. Bush wields in the USA in 2018 and you’ll have a sense of A-Bian’s true current importance. I mean, I suppose it’s possible that A-Bian is a nefarious puppetmaster who is influencing Taiwan society from behind the scenes, but I’ve seen people online who seem to think everyone knows A-Bian is the leader of the “green” half of Taiwan’s political spectrum. That may have been true once, but it hasn’t been true for a very long time now.

Rookie mistake #2: the tendency to conflate the DPP and the Taiwan independence movement. This is music to the ears of those who want people to think Taiwan is rightfully a province of China, and the desire to keep Taiwan free is a sinister plot by a political faction. In reality, the DPP is a messy big-tent political party beset by loads of problems (including many of its own making), it’s perfectly natural that a lot of Taiwanese who want a free Republic of Taiwan do not support the DPP, and not everything connected to Taiwan independence is a DPP plot.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Oryx and Crake


Oryx and Crake
by Margaret Atwood, 2003

Grim end-of-civilization fiction.

Our protagonist Jimmy grows up in a world, a few decades hence, where the super-rich live and work in vast corporate-owned gated communities and everyone else lives in the world outside. Jimmy’s dad has a sweet corporate job working in the lucrative and rapidly developing field of genetically modified organisms, and Jimmy’s childhood friend Crake turns out to be a budding genius in this field.

But we know from the start that everything’s doomed. Chapters that describe Jimmy’s childhood alternate with chapters about Jimmy’s later life. Civilization has collapsed and nearly all humans are dead. Jimmy lives near a settlement of people called Crakers, genetically modified humanoids who live an Edenic existence, pure and innocent and ignorant of all trappings of civilization. They call Jimmy “Snowman”. Crakers are the creation of Jimmy/Snowman’s old buddy Crake.

Oryx and Crake describes how we get from point A (Jimmy and Crake’s childhood) to point B (planetwide apocalypse).

This is Margaret Atwood at her most science fictiony. I know Atwood pushes back against calling her books ‘science fiction’. Frankly, I see that as a cynical attempt to not get pigeonholed into what she sees as a literary ghetto, and since I’m not her literary agent I can call her book what it obviously is all I want.

In this sci-fi world (oooh, I’m calling it not just ‘science fiction’ but ‘sci-fi’), humans are reshaping the animal and plant kingdoms: “chicken” meat that grows on tree-like organisms; porcine creatures called “pigoons” with human-like physiology, perfect for growing transplantable organs. This tampering with nature, as we can surmise early on, eventually helps lead to the collapse of human civilization.

I’m sure some see this as a grim warning of the dangers of genetically modified organisms, while others see it hysterical anti-GMO alarmism. Personally, I don’t think the biotech of Oryx and Crake necessarily needs to be interpreted in either of these ways. Atwood is clearly fascinated by this technology, and she’s engaging in the time-honored science-fictional tradition of extrapolation. People who choose to read it as a big unsubtle moralistic message about GMOs are, of course, free to take it in whatever way they want; I choose to read it differently.

I haven’t mentioned the enigmatic Oryx (half the title!), because she’s weird and I’m still not sure how to think about her character. Keeping this spoiler-free, I can say that it’s hard for me to get into her head, and if Oryx and Crake were written by a generic male author rather than by the great Margaret Atwood, he’d be mocked over how he wrote the novel’s most prominent female character.

But my wife has advised me that Atwood is playing a long game here, and I should read the remainder of the MadAddam trilogy before rushing to judgement on Oryx. OK, that’s fair.

Oryx and Crake is a self-contained story, but it ends on something of a cliffhanger, and I’m genuinely interested in what happens next. We have the second book in the trilogy on our bookshelves -- I’m interested to see how The Year of the Flood expands on this universe.