Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is a solid dystopian novel that imagines a future where genetic engineering and scientific modification has flung itself forward with little regard for the ethics and moral practices that drive our current society. The overall world was intriguing and the structure of the story was interesting, as it built on different bits of knowledge revealed by the memories of the main character and his journey back to the source of everything going awry. This intrigue was marred a bit by a feeling of bland post modernism that bordered on boring, as well as a disproportionate amount of scientific jargon and explanation. This is a READ WITH CAUTION. If you’re looking to dive into Atwood, I’d check out The Handmaid’s Tale first, which is actually one of the first books I reviewed on this blog.
Here, There Be Spoilers
The overall story of Oryx and Crake is a discovery of what came before through the memories of one of the last remaining people who actually existed pre-apocalypse. Snowman, as he named himself, is the narrator, taking us through his life with snippets of memories and explanations gleaned from interactions with the odd human-like people he is caring for: the Crakers. As the tale unfolds, you learn more and more about Snowman’s life, who Crake and Oryx were, and ultimately that Crake was right off his rocker. There’s a good dynamic of reader info given, reader guesses made, and actual info given to the reader throughout the story.
The tone, or perhaps more appropriately, the feeling evoked by this book was one of dryness, of casual desolation and the silence of once-occupied emptiness. It was similar to walking into a once-bustling warehouse that is now musty, dark, and quiet. The immediate timeline setting was more interesting than most of the memories you encounter within the novel, and I would almost have liked a book more about the present than the past, though the two are woven together decently.
Atwood employs the use of dystopian-style words and phrases a little too liberally for my tastes, taking the general satire of naming conventions in modern culture further than Orwell or Huxley might have. Corporations, products, medicines, and even foods are all given branded, corporate-funded names that are quite obvious notes to the reader about the society, but it easily becomes overwhelming alongside all the scientific mumbo jumbo.
It was interesting to read about Snowman’s depiction of the familiar plight of word people versus number people. That is to say, word people often end up feeling less valued than number people, and tend to hold jobs viewed as less important, even though the value of marketing the projects the number people produce is quite emphasized within the novel. As a word person, I know that feel, bro.
The ending was interesting in that it totally let the reader decide what Snowman would do. You’re left to contemplate and weigh the consequences of all the ways he might act. I appreciate the elegant tie in to the beginning of the story, as well as the thought behind all the different avenues that Snowman might take.
There’s also some very interesting commentary about art versus science versus religion, specifically shown with the Crakers themselves. Even without influence from the previous culture, they start to create–a thing that Crake warned would bring nothing but trouble. Did Crake leave them too human, or did Snowman influence them too much? Was it Oryx who succeeded in squandering Crake’s dream of perfect humans? We’re left to wonder.
Overall, it was a decent enough book set in a familiar and alien world. I call it a READ WITH CAUTION. If nothing else, the mental image of men with erect, bright blue penises waggling them in a greeting dance to a random woman was amusing.