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Oryx and Crake Paperback – March 30, 2004
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In Oryx and Crake, a science fiction novel that is more Swift than Heinlein, more cautionary tale than "fictional science" (no flying cars here), Margaret Atwood depicts a near-future world that turns from the merely horrible to the horrific, from a fool's paradise to a bio-wasteland. Snowman (a man once known as Jimmy) sleeps in a tree and just might be the only human left on our devastated planet. He is not entirely alone, however, as he considers himself the shepherd of a group of experimental, human-like creatures called the Children of Crake. As he scavenges and tends to his insect bites, Snowman recalls in flashbacks how the world fell apart.
While the story begins with a rather ponderous set-up of what has become a clichéd landscape of the human endgame, littered with smashed computers and abandoned buildings, it takes on life when Snowman recalls his boyhood meeting with his best friend Crake: "Crake had a thing about him even then.... He generated awe ... in his dark laconic clothing." A dangerous genius, Crake is the book's most intriguing character. Crake and Jimmy live with all the other smart, rich people in the Compounds--gated company towns owned by biotech corporations. (Ordinary folks are kept outside the gates in the chaotic "pleeblands.") Meanwhile, beautiful Oryx, raised as a child prostitute in Southeast Asia, finds her way to the West and meets Crake and Jimmy, setting up an inevitable love triangle. Eventually Crake's experiments in bioengineering cause humanity's shockingly quick demise (with uncanny echoes of SARS, ebola, and mad cow disease), leaving Snowman to try to pick up the pieces. There are a few speed bumps along the way, including some clunky dialogue and heavy-handed symbols such as Snowman's broken watch, but once the bleak narrative gets moving, as Snowman sets out in search of the laboratory that seeded the world's destruction, it clips along at a good pace, with a healthy dose of wry humor. --Mark Frutkin, Amazon.ca --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Atwood has visited the future before, in her dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale. In her latest, the future is even bleaker. The triple whammy of runaway social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event. As Jimmy, apparently the last human being on earth, makes his way back to the RejoovenEsencecompound for supplies, the reader is transported backwards toward that cataclysmic event, its full dimensions gradually revealed. Jimmy grew up in a world split between corporate compounds (gated communities metastasized into city-states) and pleeblands (unsafe, populous and polluted urban centers). His best friend was "Crake," the name originally his handle in an interactive Net game, Extinctathon. Even Jimmy's mother-who ran off and joined an ecology guerrilla group when Jimmy was an adolescent-respected Crake, already a budding genius. The two friends first encountered Oryx on the Net; she was the eight-year-old star of a pedophilic film on a site called HottTotts. Oryx's story is a counterpoint to Jimmy and Crake's affluent adolescence. She was sold by her Southeast Asian parents, taken to the city and eventually made into a sex "pixie" in some distant country. Jimmy meets Oryx much later-after college, after Crake gets Jimmy a job with ReJoovenEsence. Crake is designing the Crakers-a new, multicolored placid race of human beings, smelling vaguely of citron. He's procured Oryx to be his personal assistant. She teaches the Crakers how to cope in the world and goes out on secret missions. The mystery on which this riveting, disturbing tale hinges is how Crake and Oryx and civilization vanished, and how Jimmy-who also calls himself "the Snowman," after that other rare, hunted specimen, the Abominable Snowman-survived. Chesterton once wrote of the "thousand romances that lie secreted in The Origin of Species." Atwood has extracted one of the most hair-raising of them, and one of the most brilliant.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The story centers around Jimmy, also called Snowman, assumed to be the lone survivor of a plague that destroyed humanity. His companions are Crakers: a society of unworldly humanoid experiments designed to eliminate the perceived flaws of normal homo sapiens. The Crakers see Snowman as a relic and link to the "before" times as well as their source of knowledge about their creator, Crake. Jimmy has given the Crakers an origin story, that while false, is something he feels they can mentally grasp. The enigmatic Oryx is the novel's most interesting character primarily because she is so difficult to understand. She is the love interest to both Jimmy (Snowman) and Crake.
Atwood, an avid environmentalist, creates a believable world where climate change accelerates with cataclysmic consequences; changing the nature of agriculture and livestock production, flooding major cities and changing the weather. To compensate, society evolves into a two-tiered structure where scientists and thought-workers segregate themselves into highly secure compounds while the remainder of humanity fend for themselves in decaying, crime-ridden "plebelands". The scientists, working for global corporations, create increasingly bizarre animal and plant hybrids for food in addition to rejuvenation products that increase lifespan and beauty for those who can afford them.
The novel is, overall, an excellent one and well worth the read. The characters are well-developed and fascinating though almost uniformly difficult to like. Many elements of the story are gut-wrenchingly plausible and Atwood masterfully manages to ruin your sleep at night. One leaves the tale of Oryx and Crake with little hope for the future of humanity. Too many genies, it seems, are already out of the bottle.
It's possible to nitpick some of the story's futuristic elements. For example, published in 2003, it's difficult to see how Atwood couldn't see the coming of smart phones and electronic documents. Jimmy, searching for a job, is somehow snail mailing his paper resume to prospective employers. And another nit, as a former marketer, I found nearly all of the product names things that would have been mercilessly ridiculed at any ad meeting. Atwood seems in love with cheesy rhymes and putting "oo" in everything (Anooyoo, Soy Oh-Boy, pigoons).
Still, world-building is hard, and you have to cut the author some slack. After all, we let Suzanne Collins get away with never explaining how and why the Hunger Games world is like that. Whether or not you will like Oryx and Crake really depends on your feelings about apocalyptic fiction. I tend to rate this type of fiction on whether the author made me think and creeped me out. This novel will definitely do both of those things.
Some readers may not like the back and forth structure, but the sections flow seamlessly into one another. The pace is aided by this structure and is relentless in the unfolding of the greater story. Atwood excels in making Jimmy a well realized character with a childhood spent living in corporate science established compounds. These compounds are the gated communities of the elite set apart from the pleeblands where the general population resides. Such social stratification already exists in many ways, so Atwood is merely enhancing the nightmarish possibilities that could emerge from unchecked biological science and corporate influence.
Atwood is a writer with important messages. It's not hard to see the future she assembles for Oryx and Crake as a possible path for humanity. Jimmy is our layman guide through this well researched world of complex scientific ideas. Atwood definitely did her homework on gene-splicing and biodiversity, and in places there is almost too much telling of scientific concepts that seem out of place for Jimmy. However, for the most part Atwood is able to keep true to Jimmy and Snowman's voice and relay the happenings of a highly scientific and commercialized world through his wordsmith lens.
This story is by no means easy to read. Atwood toys with language like the biological scientists toy with creating new species; the two go hand in hand. There is also a shifting tone in the story that is at sometimes grim, other times darkly humorous and then deeply mournful. More than anything, Atwood excels in driving home the disturbing themes of human nature at its worst, grasping for immortality and god-like status, and yet she simultaneous bares the value of language, art, and the imperfection of the human body as the redeeming qualities of our species.