203 of 229 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the year's best novels for 2003
ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2003, ORYX AND CRAKE is Margaret Atwood's most apocalyptic story to date. For those of you who have read THE HANDMAID'S TALE, ORYX AND CRAKE is a lot more grim and depressing, in terms of the plight of the human race. It may be a challenge for some to get through this book. Those who are fans of...
Published on December 14, 2003 by Ratmammy
53 of 61 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A page-turner but not Atwood's best
This books follows Atwood's usual formula of a slight mystery and a slow revel. The plot centres around one character, Snowman, who is living in an abandoned post-global warming world. He retraces the events of his life, starting with his childhood on an elite research compound where people work to develop genetically modified creatures, a place separate from the...
Published on March 20, 2004 by Hilary Thomson
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203 of 229 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the year's best novels for 2003,
ORYX AND CRAKE by Margaret Atwood
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2003, ORYX AND CRAKE is Margaret Atwood's most apocalyptic story to date. For those of you who have read THE HANDMAID'S TALE, ORYX AND CRAKE is a lot more grim and depressing, in terms of the plight of the human race. It may be a challenge for some to get through this book. Those who are fans of Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction, however, may embrace this novel as I did. It is probably one of the best novels written by Margaret Atwood.
There are two main themes in ORYX AND CRAKE. First, the novel takes place in the distant future, where global warming has changed the earth so much that the coastal cities no longer exist, and New York is now New New York. Going outside in the sun is a death sentence, so the wealthier areas of the world are protected under places known as compounds, although areas known as The Pleebands still exist, where people live and are still exposed to nature in all its glory.
The second major plot line has to do with three central characters. Snowman is the narrator, also known as Jimmy, who at the start of the book is the only known surviving human being on the face of the planet. The book starts off with Snowman sleeping in a tree, barely alive, knowing that he does not have too much longer to live. Food is scarce, the sun is so hot he has blisters all over his body, and the genetically engineered creatures the wolvogs and the pigoons that have escaped are now roaming the grounds.
While he tries to keep alive, Snowman also keeps watch over a group of humanoid creatures called the Crakers, named after his "best" friend Crake, who was somehow responsible over the creation of these people. These Crakers are supposedly the ideal humans. They have no emotional desires, in particular no sex drives, except to pro-create. There is no reason for war, with this new type of human being. They are vegetarians, and do not desire meat. They are very simple people, and Snowman had promised to care for them if anything happened to Crake.
As Snowman goes back in time to reflect on the past, we learn more about Crake, who was an egotistical brilliant young man who had visions of a so-called better world. The third main character is Oryx, a woman whose history takes the reader to a third world Asian country where she was sold into a type of servitude, and eventually becomes a prostitute. She then finds her way to the western world and ends up working with Crake, becoming part of his plan when he creates the Crakers. Their story is revealed in pieces, told while Snowman goes on an adventure to find food and seek out the compound where it had all began. Snowman wants to go back to this place, hoping to find answers and food and supplies, and to remember the reasons why the human race was nearly obliterated. It's the story of these three and their lopsided relationship that leads us to answers of why the world "ended".
The new concepts and horrors that are being introduced in the book may overwhelm the reader. However, the most important theme to focus on is "what really happened"? Why is Snowman the only person left on the planet? What happened to Oryx and Crake? This is what drove me to finish this book. I could not put it down. The reader is left in the dark until the very end, when it is finally revealed how the human race was nearly wiped out. It is a very futuristic and depressing story of how mankind can go wrong in the search of a better world.
I have always had a fascination with books that take on a type of apocalyptic theme. Margaret Atwood's vision of the earth's future is not a pretty sight, but it was her story of Oryx, Crake and Snowman that made the book worthwhile. I am giving this book 5 stars, and it will most likely be in my top 5 for 2003.
62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Atwood's Best?,
By A Customer
Perhaps not. In terms of her use of language, form, depth of charaterisation etc. the 'The Blind Assassin' is technically Atwood's greatest novel so far. But having read all her novels, I've got to say that 'Oryx and Crake' is my personal favourite. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this book, how engrossed I was with every word, and how moving, shocking and disturbing I found it. It's one of the best books I've ever read. It's one of those books that, once you've finished the last page, stays with you, and when you're not reading it you're thinking of it. And it's one of those books that, when you finally close it, you so wish that you could've put your name to it yourself. It's an immense work of imagination. I finished it well over a week ago and still think of it. I found it extraordinary. The way Atwood evokes her distopian futuristic world in every detail and makes it come alive and breathe is quite incredible. I was hooked. I was hoping it would be good but it far exceeded my expectations. The book's nightmarish vision of the future makes 'The Handmaid's Tale' look like a picnic, and while you're reading Atwood makes you live in that world, makes you feel what Snowman is feeling. What horror. Frighteningly, plausibly, brilliant!
69 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A radical departure from Atwood's previous novels,
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Atwood's latest and strangest novel is truly unlike anything she has previously written, and readers of Atwood's other novels may find themselves flipping to the front, checking to see if her name is really on the title page. Like "The Handmaid's Tale," which was also set in the future, "Oryx and Crake" describes a dystopic tomorrow-land--but there the similarity ends. Featuring an uncharacteristically sparse prose and an abundance of scientific content, Atwood's bitingly satirical and hauntingly apocalyptic novel seems heavily influenced by science fiction novels of the last three decades, even while it recalls such classics as "Frankenstein," "Brave New World" and especially "Robinson Crusoe."
"Oryx and Crake" is technically a single-character novel; "Snowman" (or Jimmy) is the surviving human after a cataclysmic global disaster. He serves as a mentor of sorts to the strange yet harmless "Crakers," who have been so genetically altered that they resemble humans only in their basic appearance. Their blandness is so thorough that neither Snowman nor the reader can tell them apart. Through a series of flashbacks, Snowman describes his closest friends Crake and Oryx and their role in bringing the world to its present state; and he mockingly details his attempts at elevating them to the status of gods for the new species. Atwood doesn't really develop these two characters; instead she (through Snowman's eyes) presents only the basic, painful "truth" behind a new Genesis mythology.
The novel, one could argue, depicts a second character: the scientific community. Through extrapolation (one might say exaggeration--but I'm not so optimistic about industrial self-control), Atwood projects into the future the topics of today's headlines: anthrax, genetically modified foods, cloning, gene splicing, weapons of mass destruction, the overuse and abuse of psychiatric drugs, Internet porn, SARS, ecoterrorism, globalization. On a lighter level, she also skewers the moronic corporate brand names flooding the market these days: anyone who thinks her inventions are far-fetched should consider such mind-numbingly lame (and inexplicably popular) trademarks as Verizon, ImClone, MyoZap, Swole, Biocidin, and Rejuven-8.
"Oryx and Crake" may well fall short of some readers' expectations for "a Margaret Atwood novel." But judged as an entry in the genre of science fiction, it's a powerful and visionary masterpiece.
53 of 61 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A page-turner but not Atwood's best,
This books follows Atwood's usual formula of a slight mystery and a slow revel. The plot centres around one character, Snowman, who is living in an abandoned post-global warming world. He retraces the events of his life, starting with his childhood on an elite research compound where people work to develop genetically modified creatures, a place separate from the "pleeblands" where most ordinary humans leave. Snowman also slowly reveals the characters Oryx and Crake and their role in his life and current situation.
Atwood definitely succeeds at creating a sense of place - a terrifying, overgrown world of characters split between the elite research facilities of Snowman's childhood and the dangerous "pleeblands" where average people live. I couldn't put the book down because I wanted to find how Snowman got to the place he was.
But the characters in this novel aren't fleshed out. At the end we are still left wondering about the motivations of Oryx and Crake and Snowman himself.
There is also a child pornography sub-plot that was kind of pointless. We are expecting a great denouement but get none. I was left wondering "so what?" Why was this tawdry industry explored if not to offer us some sort of meaningful criticism of it?
To a lesser degree, the same is true of the genetic modification theme. Atwood is clearly horrified by the dangers but also seems fascinated by the possibilities, and in the end the question is not entirely resolved.
While I enjoyed this book, it felt more like a tawdry paperback than a novel by one of Canada's foremost authors. I am shocked that of all of her novels, this one won the Booker Prize. If you want Atwood sci-fi read The Handmaid's Tale. And if you want a compelling, mysterious read try Alias Grace.
51 of 61 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't quite cut the "mustchup",
Yes, I said "mustchup." See, I just invented a new word - in this case, a combination of "mustard" and "ketchup" (yum!) - just like Margaret Atwood does in her novel, "Oryx and Crake." Wasn't that fun? OK, maybe not. Well, then, how about some of Atwood's neologisms: wolvog (wolverine+dog); snat (snake+rat); rakunk (racoon+skunk); bobkitten (bocat+kitten); and of course the dreaded pigoon (pig+something or other)? Do you find this whole exercise to be fun? clever? hilarious? thought provoking? intriguing? If "all of the above" is your answer, then it's highly likely you'll love "Oryx and Crake." If "goofy," "weird," "silly," and even "pointless" are adjectives that spring to your mind, I'd strongly recommend that you read another book.
Personally, I have mixed feelings about "Oryx and Crake," including the made-up words. On the plus side, I thought the book was well written from a stylistic point of view. Plain and simple, Margaret Atwood knows how to write, and that's no small thing when you think about all the godawful stuff that passes for fiction out there in our nation's bookstores. Besides that, Atwood has an excellent, dark sense of humor, as in her fascinating "Blood and Roses" game, where the "Blood" side plays with human atrocities and the "Roses" side with human achievements. Thus, we have "one Mona Lisa equaled Bergen-Belsen, one Armenian genocide equaled the Ninth Symphony plus three Great Pyramids...but there was room for haggling." As I said, Atwood's sense of humor is dark. Besides style and humor, Atwood's certainly got something to say, with strong opinions about morality, bioethics, technology, power, society, human nature, sexuality, and much more. Finally, Atwood has a talent for creating plausible scenarios, characters, and future worlds playing off of our own present. In other words, Atwood's got all the makings of a fine science fiction writer.
So, with all those positives, why do I have mixed feelings about "Oryx and Crake?" Basically, because I feel that Atwood's talents are largely wasted here. True, she's creative, but what's the point of this book? Ultimately, it's hard to know; Atwood is frustratingly vague. Just as importantly, why should we care about the world and characters Atwood creates, starting with the title characters, Oryx and Crake. As far as Oryx is concerned, my feeling at the end of the book was, "goodbye Oryx, sorry I don't care very much, but frankly, I hardly knew ya!" I mean, you'd think that the character whose name is listed first in the book's title would get a bit more fleshing out than the measly treatment Oryx receives in "Oryx and Crake." But, sadly, she doesn't. After nearly 400 pages, I honestly couldn't tell you the most basic things about Oryx: who is she; where does she come from; what makes her tick; why should we care? And yes, I had the same problem with Crake, the other character of the book's title. Unfortunately, these questions apply in many ways to the book as a whole: what is this book all about; where does the world described here come from; what makes it all tick; why should we care?
Another problem with "Oryx and Crake" is that, while it's inventive on a certain level, it's really not very original or interesting. At times, I found myself wondering if Atwood simply took bits and pieces from some of her favorite books and movies -- Blade Runner; Twelve Monkeys; The Island of Dr. Moreau; Gattaca; The Time Machine; Frankenstein, Brave New World - and spliced them together like the rakunks and snats populating the world of "Oryx and Crake." The problem is that, like pigoons and wolvogs, there's something artificial, uninteresting, and strangely cool/devoid of emotion about the synthetic creations, human and animal, that Margaret Atwood gives us in "Oryx and Crake."
Still, lest I completely slam "Oryx and Crake," let me just end by stating that there is a lot of good material here, and I was glad I read it, frustrating though it was. If you've read Atwood's fiction previously and are a fan, I would certainly recommend that you read "Oryx and Crake." If not, you might want to spend you r time reading something else in the dystopia/sci-fi genres, perhaps by Philip Dick, Alfred Bester, or HG Wells. Now THOSE guys really cut the "mustchup!"
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I did not care for it,
Margaret Atwood is a great author. She's easily one of my favorite writers, with "The Handmaid's Tale", "The Blind Assassin" and "Cat's Eye" all front-runners on my personal list of favorite books. But I was rather disappointed with "Oryx and Crake".
Throughout the novel Atwood lashes out at everything from big business to genetics to Internet culture, and it is clear that this last one, in particular, is something the author knows very little about. Internet in the world of "Oryx and Crake" seems to be purely comprised of shallow, pointlessly-brutal online games and graphic child pornography. These things exist in reality, of course, but are far from that prevalent or extreme. It's clear Atwood was trying to make a statement, but she just overshot it. And because of this, it just didn't connect or make any sort of impact. The same goes for the scientific aspects of story. The biotech portrayed in the novel was so rediculously out there, resembling not so much a cautionary element as a 'mad-scientist' caricature you'd likely find in a Saturday morning cartoon. In reading this novel, I never quite shrugged the feeling that Atwood was making accusation after blind accusation towards things that she did not bother researching about and understanding beforehand. And this is a shame, because the situations did have promise.
And as far as the characters are concerned, to put it shortly, I found none of them particularly interesting, and I could rarely sympathize with them when the circumstances they were in were so freakishly outlandish. A lack of solid characterization makes it even more difficult.
Satire and dystopian fiction are supposed to tap into peoples' fears. It works when the reader can relate to what they're reading, and that happens when what they're reading is convincing enough. And that's where I found "Oryx and Crake" to fall short. Frog-squashing, "Kwiktime Osama" and massive, amoebic chickenesque lifeforms with no heads and six bodies were more goofy and weird than they were believable. All of the capitalized conjunctions were pretty obnoxious as well. "SoYummie", "CorpSeCorps", "HealthWyzer", "HappiCuppa", "ChickieNobs", etc. All too alien, all too cartoonish. Nothing I could ever imagine seeing advertised in real life.
As much as it would kill Atwood to admit it, this is science fiction, and it is pretty run-of-the-mill science fiction at that. The popular opinion seems to be that this is a masterpiece of 'speculative fiction', but anyone who is familiar enough with science fiction will know that the ideas it centers around have been worked with countless times before. And in much better ways. This is no prophetic shelf-mate to "1984" or 'F-451'. And it is not Atwood's best effort to any degree. I'm certainly not giving up on the author any time soon, but perhaps she needs to take a few steps back from this kind of genre writing.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book to feel ambivalent about,
I have mixed feelings about Margaret Atwood: I enjoy some of her books quite a lot (e.g., "The Handmaid's Tale", while others I downright loathe (e.g., "Lady Oracle"). "Oryx and Crake" perhaps best sums up my feelings in that there were parts that I enjoyed, and then there were things that left me unsatisfied.
Without getting into a lengthy synopsis, O&C is the tale of a utopian society within a dystopian world. From the novel's onset it is clear that the main narrator, Snowman, is the only member of the human race who has survived whatever it is that has caused the world to spiral into a primitive wasteland. Through his recollections, we trace his life from childhood and discover who Oryx & Crake are and how Snowman's current existence came to be (of course, it's not exactly that easy because Snowman's world is already dramatically different from our own, although I'm betting that Atwood is hoping we draw enough parallels to see that the leaps aren't nearly that large and ought to start worrying...).
The writing style is fairly easy, and there were only a few moments where I read a line that had that quintissential Atwood flair that verges on an affectation (other readers may enjoy what I view as ersatz ballsiness, but I obviously do not). The most difficult thing for me regarding the writing was the jarring shifts in time - just when you feel like you're starting to get some pertinent backstory, you're slammed back into Snowman's present surroundings. Due to this (perhaps necessary) way of the telling the story, I started out highly intrigued by learning the cause of Snowman's situation, only to find that the more I read, the more my interest waned. It became clear to me that the explanation Atwood was preparing to give us was only going to be 'kind-of cool' rather than all-out awesome.
And it was. As another reviewer has so astutely pointed out, character motivations are pretty obtuse throughout the novel. We hear a lot about what people do, but we are frequently left hanging as to why they behaved as they did. In particular, the reasons for the actions of Crake are inscrutible, which is a huge flaw given that they drive the novel. I finished the book feeling that Atwood knew what her final destination was, but ran out of gas before reaching it. The more I think about it, the more I realize that despite the entire story being told only through Snowman's eyes, I feel that I understood/knew his character little better than Crake or Oryx.
Unfortunately, this is one of those books with great buildup, but disappointing returns. It captivates, yes, but is ultimately not as clever or as rewarding as it could have been. I found the ending so unsatisying that this joins the ranks of "books I am glad that I have read but will never read more than once".
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This woman "out sci-fi's" the best of 'em!,
Amazing! This is a butch, almost brutal science fiction novel that can hold its own against Max Barry or any of the "cult" new writers. I had to keep peeking at the author picture to remind myself that I was still reading Atwood.
I have felt that her books, though always beautiful and lucid, have gotten more cluttered lately. Oryx and Crake pares all that away and returns to basics: What does "extinction" really mean? What qualities make us human? Is scientific "progress" always for the good?
This book's dustcover draws tired-sounding comparisons with Handmaid's Tale which bely the true essence of this book. Just about the only thing they have in common is that they're both set in the future.
Where Handmaid's Tale was centred around women and their bodies, this newest work embraces us as a species, from a largely male viewpoint. It ripples with both vigourous youth and wise experience; it's absolutely a delight.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scary and altogether plausible,
This book is not for the faint of heart, either in subject matter or in writing style. True to Atwood's form, it is ambiguous to the end, rarely judgmental, and with a matter-of-fact tone that forces a level of interpretation by the reader. It is also, like several of Atwood's other novels, written back-to-front. It is post-apocalyptic in the truest sense, with the calamity explained in a series of flashbacks as the main character, Snowman, goes about his business trying to survive in a newly-depopulated world.
Snowman began life as Jimmy, an average boy living in a Compound - one of many walled-off, artificially suburban-styled fortresses owned and operated by powerful corporations engaged in bio-research for commercial purposes. He is the son of a bio-engineer. It is the future, though how far in the future is never explained - best guess is late 21st century. It is not a world too far removed from our own to be believable. A class system has emerged between those living in the Compounds, the Modules (a series of planned communities similar to the Compounds) and the Pleeblands (vast areas including the old cities, where average people live and work). Technology has advanced, and bio-engeering is commonplace, but there is never a sense that the world Atwood has created is any other than the one we're familiar with.
Because of this, the story is harrowing and seemingly all-too-plausible. It is not a world many of us would want to live in even pre-apocalypse; with violent protests, terrorism, continuous war, global warming, a complete breakdown of basic morality, and various bio-experiments gone wrong taking lives across the planet on a daily basis. Residents have grown accustomed to living through various mini-emergencies, though Module and Compound residents rarely venture into the Pleeblands out of fear. It is worth noting, however, that the book is written from the point of view of a Compound resident - it is never clear if the Pleeblands are really as dangerous as they're described, or whether Compounders simply live sheltered lives. (The latter is implied more than once.)
The story takes place over at least two decades, though exact time periods are never given. Jimmy is the one continuous presence throughout the story, and as his life progresses he meets Crake - a brilliant boy that he befriends - and later Oryx, the woman he falls in love with. (As with Snowman, these are not their real names.) As the plot comes to a climax, we're left wondering at the true motivations of these characters, and we're left stunned at the way these events unfold. (Sorry if I sound vague - I am trying to keep this review spoiler-free.)
Reading some of the other criticisms of this book, I believe a lot of people either didn't quite get what Atwood was trying to do, or they couldn't accept her message. As in many other novels and films about the apocalypse (in the past this would have been nuclear; today it's bio-genetic), the overriding theme is just how easy it can happen, how foolish we are to tempt fate. And it is already happening - very little in this novel is new, but simply a logical extension of things that are all going on right now, today.
As Atwood says in one of the many insights you'll remember from this book, only one generation need be skipped before all of mankind's knowledge and experience is lost forever. In fact, this insight - treated as a throwaway moment in the book, as heard by Jimmy - is central to the story's theme. Once you realize this, you'll start wondering what else you as a reader, or Jimmy/Snowman as a character, may have missed or dismissed in earlier chapters. It's a multi-layered way of writing that is very close to the way people operate in real life - we often don't realize what's important and what isn't until it's too late.
The only real reason I'm taking a star off from a full rating is that what little Atwood does invent comes off as less than authentic. For example, nearly an entire chapter is devoted to popular computer games of this future era, but the games she describes are much too simple to be believable even at present, much less in the future (one popular game is little more than an updated version of "20 Questions"). The names she invents for various companies and organizations also sound much too cute - "HealthWyzer", "RejooviNation", "CorpSeCorps". And more than once, I questioned whether making the main character a Compounder was the right choice given Atwood's obvious disdain for her extrapolated class system - but given the plot, it was probably the only choice she had.
Most of the time, though, Atwood's beautiful prose blends with this harrowing story to make a compelling novel. It's a book that sticks with you, and makes you wonder where the human race is headed.
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Crakers weren't all they were cracked up to be.,
By A Customer
I have been a fan and avid reader of Ms. Atwood's since the mid-80's, and have read most of her novels. I eagerly waited for Oryx and Crake, and raced through it in less than three days. It had all the hallmarks of an Atwood novel: dystopian future nightmare; silly (but not unthinkable) product names; characters with multiple lives and secrets.
But it was missing the most important hallmarks of an Atwood novel: it just wasn't entertaining or engaging on a par with her previous works.
Perhaps the fact that it was set in a future that is entirely possible given today's environment, or that we're surrounded by SARS and anthrax scares, but I just did not find it frightening or illuminating. The scare that is the backbone of the novel isn't scary enough. The character's secrets weren't that secret. The horrors of pornography weren't that horrible. The ability for one person to create global cataclysmic chaos is a bit far-fetched. The Crakers weren't all they were cracked up to be.
All in all, I was disappointed. Ms. Atwood has made a career of postulating tales that are "out there" enough to disturb you, but not so far out there that they are impossible or pure science fiction. What I found wanting was more of a leap to the range of "out there".
This would be an excellent "introductory" novel to Ms. Atwood's writing, but serious fans shouldn't thrash themselves if they don't rush out to get it. Wait for the paperback (better yet, borrow it from your library).
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Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood