Oryx and Crake: Consume without question
Perfect for: dystopians, primitivists, sci-fi fans, scientists, people who hope the world will end, people who hope it won’t, or any combination of the above
“Oryx and Crake” is modern dystopian fiction that is terrifyingly possible. Unlike the far cry from physical reality taken by many of her forerunners, Atwood (“The Blind Assassin,” “The Handmaid’s Tale”) sets her novel in a time that seems to be the near present. Through the recollections of a lonely protagonist calling himself “Snowman,” the reader is shown the last days of the human race as we know it. In the time that Snowman remembers, society was technologically dependant, consumer driven, and the desire for youth and improvement ran rampant. In response to this (or is it merely out of the ability to do it?), the scientists of this society were busy modifying genetics and engineering new food sources and ways to avoid aging. It is these efforts that ultimately leave Snowman overseeing the lives of a flock of humans (that he refers to as the “Crakers”) that have the evolutionary advantages of a number of animals.
In his life before, Snowman was an isolated boy named Jimmy growing up inside the science compounds. He was the son of a two bioengineers. He attended compound schools.
Then his mother – angry, distant – ran from the compound, taking his only companion with her – a splice between a raccoon and skunk, cleverly monikered “rakunk.” Through memory, the reader is show how lonely Jimmy’s life is until he meets Crake. Jimmy and Crake spend their time together playing computer games and looking at porn shows and deaths on-line. Crake is Jimmy’s only true friend; Jimmy is Crake’s only friend.
Crake goes on to become an evil genius, of sorts, and is tied both to the Crakers and Snowman’s guardianship of them. Amidst all of this, expect what some may call a love story.
Atwood weaves the conflicts between primitivism, technology, morality, and the consequences of the pursuit of “perfection” throughout the novel, but she never directly reveals to the reader what she believes to be right. Even though the conditions that we find Snowman in are the result of human intervention on nature, he is still faithful to the Crakers, one of that same intervention’s products. While Snowman lives unencumbered by the social standards and systems he was once subject to, he is unable to shake his old life and habits completely.
While some of the underlying themes in Atwood’s novel are reminiscent of the class division between intellectuals and ignorant in Well’s “Time Machine,” “Oryx and Crake”changes the approach. Atwood does not emphasize the differences between the scientists and the rest of society, but this lack of emphasis serves its purpose. From the view of Snowman, the society outside of the compounds was not important, except that they consumed what was produced. And, considering what was produced, they must have consumed without questioning what it was they were being given.
Which is what makes this book such a terrifying read. We currently live in a society that is considering and conducting genetic modifications – glowing rabbits, onions that don’t make you cry – and we may be failing to ask the questions that “Oryx and Crake”demands we ask. Where is this coming from and why are we doing it? Where will it ultimately lead? How can we know?
Fast-paced, accessible, and close to home, “Oryx and Crake” will pull you breathlessly forward, then drop you ten stories in the last six pages. Prepare to feel unresolved