In a New York Times review of MaddAddam, the final instalment in Margaret Atwood’s eco-apocalyptic trilogy, Andrew Sean Greer notes “[w]hat a joy it is to see…Atwood taking such delicious pleasure in the end of the world.” If critics such as Timothy Morton and Michael Branch have lamented the dominance of elegiac, melancholic rhetoric in ecological writing and (in the case of Branch) pleaded for more humor in both literary theory and practice, this article unearths how humor operates on crucial rhetorical and narrative levels in the climate fiction of Atwood and Ian McEwan. It analyzes how several comic modes—from satirical dark humor to slapstick—draw attention to ethical and epistemological quandaries raised by climate change and ecological risk in distinctive ways that merit further study. Drawing historical and generic comparisons to satirical modes prevalent in twentieth-century science fiction and film, and especially to the dark humor made emblematic by Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove, the article decrypts how Atwood’s MaddAddam and McEwan’s Solar offer incongruously funny representations of ecocatastrophe that—like Kubrick’s famed nuclear-age spoof—serve both to distract from and snap us out of the paralysis of fear, encouraging a self-reflexive mode of reading. In Solar, absurd and slapstick humor marks the rise of an egotistical, Nobel Prize-winning scientist who steals a colleague’s work to develop a technology capable of averting catastrophic warming. In the end, this invites a pragmatic question framed in a light-hearted manner: who cares how the climate crisis is solved, and whether efforts are intellectually honest or affectively in earnest, as long as solutions are found? Meanwhile, Atwood’s novel proves more traditional in its turn to familiar sci-fi conventions of technological satire and dark humor to imagine a post-human future following mutually intertwined eco and techno-catastrophes. In her work, critiques of biotechnology, late-market capitalism, and its irreversible ecological consequences are framed in bitingly comic terms; but this does not prevent the trilogy from retaining a sense of hope and ethical urgency.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 86-107
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.