Oryx and Crake
Paperback, 443 pages
Random House, 2003
Dystopian Challenge and Spring Reading Thing Challenge
Margaret Atwood takes the question, "what if?" and runs with it in Oryx and Crake. What if scientists were allowed to whatever they wanted? What if they could make whatever they wanted? What if? What if?
Atwood just gives us tiny bits of the story at a time, using flashbacks to explain what’s happened. It’s just enough to keep us reading until it’s questionable conclusion. The story opens in a desolated world where the sun and the weather is a killer. Living in a tree is Snowman whose only company is a group of beings he calls the Children of Crake. Snowman barely holds onto his sanity. He wonders how he’s gotten here; how it all went so terribly wrong.
Snowman was once Jimmy, a kid with genius parents. They lived in compound separated from a crumbling society where they are paid by pharmaceutical companies to create bizarre creatures, and diseases, supposedly to help mankind. Jimmy’s only friend is a boy genius named Crake. They spend hours on the internet playing violent games and watching porn. Crake seems to have no conscience and is bothered by nothing.
As they grow older, the two boys go their separate ways. Jimmy is a lonely loser, Crake a top dog in the scientific community. He invites Jimmy to be part of an experiment called the ‘Paradice Project’. While there, Jimmy falls for Oryx, a woman he once saw as a child on a porn website.
A big theme in Oryx and Crake, in my opinion, is ethics. In this not so distant future, there seems to be no respect for ethics and anyone who has them suffers. It’s not just the big stuff, like the creation of the Crakers or the pigoons, but little things as well. Jimmy isn’t bothered by what he sees on the internet until he sees the little girl:
"But for the first time he’d felt what they’d been doing was wrong. Before, it had always been entertainment, or else far beyond his control, but now he felt culpable."
It made me wonder about the students caught cheating in school through technology and it’s ok because "everyone else does it." It’s a small thing but it gets the ball rolling.
The creatures made my stomach turn. I don’t think I’ll ever see chicken the same way again. The wolvdogs freaked me out the most, I don’t know why. As well, there are some disturbing scenes, including gruesome deaths.
I enjoyed Atwood’s style of writing. It’s full of irony and humour. But I felt the story went off the rails at the end. Crake’s motives for what he does, I still don’t fully understand. Plus I didn’t find Snowman/Jimmy a very likeable character. He’s quite anti-social. Really I only sympathized with him because he is the only survivor.
For dystopian novels, I prefer The Handmaid's Tale.