Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
While Margaret Atwood, the author of Oryx and Crake, will contest that this book isn’t science fiction, it definitely has the smell of it to me. It might not be futuristic space travel, but it’s a future that science may very well one day achieve for us. Hopefully this is a cautionary tale about where things could go from here rather than a dire prediction, but the thought of harvesting human organs in animals called pigoons and scientists coming up with the newest skin rejuvenating fad isn’t quite so far fetched and is in fact a bit of a foreboding read. Whatever else it has, it certainly has elements of not only the apocalyptic feel of end of the world science fiction, but it also has a scary glimpse of where genetic engineering can take us. If nothing else, this is social science fiction at a believably horrifying level.
The story parallels the life of Jimmy, growing up in modular, sterile surroundings and Snowman, the man Jimmy was to become. The story of Jimmy starts when he was young, living on the compounds where his father worked. All educated people live in these evolutions of the gated community and strictly avoid the pleeblands. In these modules you can find everything from houses to malls, but the main features are the scientific labs that are splicing genes and creating new animal hybrids such as the pigoons. These animals were created to essentially incubate and store extra human organs for transplants, and the pigoons were only one of the first.
The second story is about Snowman and the Crakers. Snowman, short for the Abominable Snowman, is to the best of his knowledge the last human alive, and certainly the only one vaccinated against the horrible virus that claimed the human race. His story, from his present to the end, is paralleled by his story of growing up and arriving to the point where the reader picks up at the beginning of the book. Snowman was charged by his friend Crake to watch over the latest in human development, the Crakers, spliced humans that Crake created. They had modifications from many different life forms, plant and animal alike, and other than Snowman (to the best of Snowman’s knowledge) are the only “people” to have survived the virus that wiped humans off the face of the map.
In my opinion, and initially the opinion of Jimmy, the ideas presented in this book are incredibly disturbing. The implications of gene splicing–creating animals like pigoons to harvest human organs or ChickieNobs, chickens created immovable and for the purpose of harvesting chicken breasts and wings–makes my stomach lurch a little. I may never eat a chicken nugget again. Above and beyond that, though, I can’t decide which of the following is my nightmare: a “mad” scientist (in the story this is Crake, Jimmy’s best friend) who can create the next evolution of humans, or the fact that this same man did this so that he could introduce a “hot bioform” to annihilate human existence. Except he didn’t quite get rid of everyone; he left Jimmy to watch over his creation.
In supreme irony, Crake is revered by the Crakers as their creator. Oryx, a young woman Jimmy and Crake may have originally seen on a kiddie porn website, becomes the teacher of the Crakers before the catastrophe and the lover of both Jimmy and Crake. Like all love (or even lust) triangles, there will eventually be trouble in Paradise. Trouble in–or in this case, from–Paradise, which is the name of the compound where Crake is simultaneously creating life and death. Crake and Oryx are in many ways the Adam and Eve of the Crakers, but Snowman/Jimmy is the one who has to lead them from Paradise out to the wide world.
The build up to the climax it truly elegant. It starts out with the aftermath as Snowman tries to survive and slowly intertwines his troubled childhood, his meeting Crake, their adolescence being desensitized to porn and violence, and the slow under the surface indicators of what is to come. While it is clear that something horrible happened, the hints are subtle and the story is compelling. At what point does Jimmy’s past converge with Snowman’s present? Where does he intersect the events that caused him to be the guardian and even prophet of the Crakers? Ultimately what is humanity?
I would recommend this book to anyone. The flow between Snowman’s past and present was perfect. I had a hard time putting this book down, as I constantly needed to know the mystery of Snowman’s solitary existence. Throughout it contains a dry humor and a glimpse of what might be. I don’t feel that I can properly do this book justice. Go read it!
“He doesn’t know which is worse, a past he can’t regain or a present that will destroy him if he looks at it too clearly. Then there’s the future. Sheer vertigo.”
One of the underlying key themes of the book is the nature of human beings and their sense of moral ethics. In other words, the Crakers gained their sense of right and wrong thru their instincts as designed by Crake. We got our sense of right and wrong thru evolution. All social animals live by some form of the Golden Rule. This is the point of departure for the book, everything else is just entertainment.