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Novelist Atwood Imagines Dark Future in New Book

Jeffrey Brown speaks with novelist Margaret Atwood about her latest novel "The Year of the Flood" at her Toronto home.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Finally tonight, a novel take on the future. Jeffrey Brown talks with author Margaret Atwood.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In a beautiful, leafy neighborhood of Toronto, Margaret Atwood tends her garden, cutting back the overgrown lemon balm and peppermint. And on this day, the world seemed more than fine.

    But in a new novel, Atwood conjures up a nasty future in which a religious cult called God's Gardeners struggles to survive amid biological experiments run amok, a diminishing food supply, and a pandemic that leads to the end of the world as we know it. The book is titled "The Year of the Flood," part of a genre Atwood calls "speculative fiction."

  • MARGARET ATWOOD, author:

    The only reason I use that term is that science fiction often means to people Planet X, talking cabbages, you know, very far-out things, the attack of the lizard men. And that's not what I write.

    So by speculative fiction, I mean planet Earth, technology that we have today or are developing, stuff we could actually do, things that might really — could conceivably happen.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Atwood is a prolific master of many genres: 17 volumes of poetry, essays, criticism, and short stories, and 12 novels, including the 2000 Booker Award-winning "The Blind Assassin."

    She's perhaps best known still for her first foray into speculative fiction, a 1985 novel "The Handmaid's Tale," later made into a film which portrayed a future world in which women were subjugated and some owned by men for the sole purpose of bearing children.

    Her recent novel, "Oryx and Crake," and now "The Year of the Flood," look at what could happen as humans meddle with nature.

  • MARGARET ATWOOD:

    My material comes from reading quite a bit of what I called pop science, which means…

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Pop science?

  • MARGARET ATWOOD:

    … I don't have to do the math.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Your novel is set in the future, but we're reading daily headlines about swine flu and with SARS just before that.

  • MARGARET ATWOOD:

    Was I basing it on anything in particular? No, because you don't need to. It's out there. The one in my book is an Ebola-Marburg splice genetic alteration. And one of the scary things about the time we live in right now is that we can combine genetic material from different species.

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