on 26 June 2006
Few novels pack the same emotional punch as Oryx and Crake. I finished the book feeling empathising with the pain of he main character Snowman AKA Jimmy. Snowman lives in a tree, starving, lonely and grieving. He might be the last normal left in the world. He acts as as sort of father figure to a group of genetically engineered almost-humans called Crakers after Crake their creator. The Crakers psychology and knowledge of their environment are sufficiently different from homo sapiens that Snowman can never truly be himself with them. This and his revered status means that even with the Crakers nearby he is as alone as anyone can be.
The Crakers can survive on greens and roots but Snowman is slowly starving as his food supply dwindles. He has lost all hope but struggles on anyway partly from a blind desire to survive in spite of everything and partly to fulfill a promise to Oryx, the one woman he feels he truly loved, to protect the Crakers.
The story is told as two narratives one set in Snowman's present, the other a series of flashbacks. In this way we learn both what Snowman is doing now and how the world came to be in its present post-apocalyptic state. Atwood handles this brilliantly and I found myself turning pages wanting to find out what happened in both time lines. The use of a dual narrative is not gratuitous - the novel would not have worked without it. If the events had simply been described in chronological order the second half of the story would have seemed a let down.
The Crakers are described and used to as a contrast to the behaviour of normal humans in a world gone awry but as characters they don't really exist. The story is really about Jimmy (who became Snowman), Crake and Oryx. Jimmy grew up in a corporate Compound isolated from the decaying and dangerous outside world. He is funny, smart and good with words but has difficultly forming meaningful relationships. As an adult he has lover after lover but never manages to let any of them get close.
Crake is a genius somewhat aloof from the world. His father died some time before he meets Jimmy and it's clear he believes it was murder although it seems a case of accidental death. At the age of fourteen Crake and Jimmy become friends and spend their time browsing the man channels available via the net from scenes of public executions to child porn. Through their viewing Atwood paints a picture of a world in which society is disintergrating rapidly and the corporations control everything.
Oryx is an enigmatic woman who may be the same person as the eight year-old child Jimmy and Crake once saw on a child porn channel after having been sold by her mother. Of the main characters Oryx is probably the most interesting although we only ever see her through Jimmy's eyes. We never really get into the head of Crake to find out why he acted as he did (I won't give details hear it would give away too much of the plot) but nevertheless all the characters are masterfully described and Atwood does an excellent job of making the reader think of them as real people. The novel is a "what if" story of what might happen if science, in particular genetic engineering gets out of control.
on 20 May 2003
This is the first time I've read a book by Margaret Atwood (my interest piqued by the intriguing cover) and I'm pleased to say it won't be my last.
This is a book that grabs your attention from the very first sentence and never lets go, dragging you further and further into the nightmare world of an all to possible near future. Who is the Snowman? Why is he alone? Who/what are the Children of Crake? The answers Atwood reveals slowly, as she describes a world not unlike our own - apart from the pigoons, wolvogs and rakunks and the fact that the midday sun can burn the skin from your back. The geological world has changed but the human world certainly hasn't. If anything, it's got worse. Technologies such as the Internet, GM food and genetic engineering are taken to their logical and depressing conclusions. Anyone familiar with 'Transmetropolitan' won't be surprised by the themes explored.
In terms of 'lone survivor in a hostile environment' genre, 'Oryx & Crake' shares similarities with 'I Am Legend' - Snowman (short for Abominable Snowman), sees himself as a creature of myth; the last human left alive. But unlike Matheson's book, the explicit reasons for the final catastrophe are revealed in a horrifying climax, the causes of which are slowly hinted at as the story unfolds through Snowman's memories.
Atwood's skill lies in taking what is merely theory now and having it treated as commonplace by her characters. The horror of the book lies in the fact that it could happen. In some instances events have already overtaken fiction and the seeds of our (possible), destruction have already been sown.
Not a preachy, or po-faced book by any means (there's a surprising amount of humour) but certainly one that makes you stop and think, with characters and events that will haunt you long after the final page. Thoroughly recommended.
on 4 June 2003
In Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood returns to Handmaid's Tale territory insofar as this is a dystopian vision of the future, and insofar as the central character, Jimmy/Snowman both mourns the loss of a dearly beloved object and berates himself for not having foreseen a destructive cataclysm, through the consequences of which he is now struggling to survive. The novel bears other Atwood hallmarks too - the limpid prose and the beguiling narrative structure of deceptive simplicity.
Jimmy's past is an all-too-recognisable future of gated communities living in fear of the 'pleeblands' outside, of genetic engineering on demand turned to the gratification of our shallowest desires, and of entertainment on tap from internet porn and destructive wargames simulating extinction. His present is a world which has lost all familiar features and where he himself faces extinction, but has also been reinvented as the source of creation myths for a community of the Children of Crake, on the one hand monstrous freaks of genetically redesigned humans, herbivorous and with added features such as the sexual displays of baboons and the purring of cats, but minus impulses such as lust and aggression. These creatures begin more and more to appear like the noble savages, the ideal primitive people, described by writers such as Montaigne, and Jimmy is caught in a web of confusion as to his place with them -to protect or to resent, as he is drawn into the role of the semi-divine, wholly alien storyteller and shaman explaining their beginnings and their place in this unrecognisable world around them: imagine Lord of the Flies told from the point of view of the pig's head on the stick.
This is not a novel that gives easy answers and, as with the Handmaid's Tale, we are left with an ending of multiple possibilities. A brilliant, unforgettable read.
on 29 March 2005
Another apocalyptic vision from Margaret Atwood and god it's good. The future she depicts is not exotic and alien but an uncomfortably plausible extension of the present. In particular the strangely compelling ChickieNobs left me with a distinct feeling of unease about eating takeaway fried chicken.
This is science fiction (or speculative fiction, if you must) with literary flair, a combination that made me tingle with excitement.
Then it ended. That excitement became confusion and disappointment. Was that it? Was I missing the point? Dark, sad, ambiguous, challenging - I positively enjoy these sorts of endings but why did it have to be another damp squib?
on 12 September 2003
The story is not new but some of the worries and extrapolations are; biotechnologies, porno culture, Third World usage, the last hardly ever a concern for North American writers. This are some the nightmare we are developing with out much ethical debate except for the usual technophobes that just polarize discussion without allowing dialog. A book like this one, at list points at some of the malaise that is permeating our culture with out being sanctimonies and starts thinking what we are actually doing with our newly acquired powers.
I do not think we are supposed to like to like the main characters; it is a fallacy in most books to have these beings that are likable but that in reality would never exist. By the very nature of the story the characters have to be damaged.
It surprised me that no mention of Nano technologie was made in the book.
It also resembles quite closely a book by Gore Vidal called Kalki.
on 2 November 2003
Jimmy once had a friend. His best friend, Crake,a highly intelligent but somewhat disturbed and cold emotionally person. As all young men, these two also share dreams and visions of the world and reality. Only that it`s too late when Jimmy realises that Crake`s dream is going to create a catastrophe which will take many lives including the life of his beloved, Oryx- a mysterious and intoxicating lover. The result is an abandoned and ruined world in which Jimmy lives on a tree surrounded by primitive beings created by Crake- humans who doesn`t know art,religion,clothes,moral. The story moves all the time between past and present- Jimmy`s present life and his memories about what had happened and why. I wasn`t impressed by the plot as for me it seemed very similar to many other sci-fi-end-of world anti-utopia and even sounded a little bit out of date.What I liked about the book was the unmistakable personal feeling of loss, grief,loneliness of Jimmy who once had a friend and a beloved, and now is Snowman,coping with hunger,pain and guilty conscience.Without preaching morals, without being didactive, the book manages to be very human in its essence. It is Jimmy`s unfinite sense of loss and loneliness and his constant questioning "why" that convince us how important is to perserve love,friendship,compassion, and how dangerous can be ambitions to change the order of the world. A good read.
on 28 March 2012
Welcome to another frightening, peculiar world as imagined by Margaret Atwood: a Dystopian future where balloon shaped pigs are bred to grow extra human organs and a hermit wrapped in a bed sheet lives in a tree, haunted by the past. A world where humans have played god and now one man struggles for survival...
What an excellent read. This is another one of those books that I really wish I could `do over' for the first time, just to experience it again with new eyes. It really such an absorbing, interesting novel! I'm not a massive sci-fi fan, but then judging by some of the reviews on here, a lot of people don't consider THIS to be sci-fi either! Needless to say, I *do* consider this to be science fiction, but whatever genre this book falls into, I enjoyed it immensely.
The plot moves at a quick pace, keeping the reader hooked and slowly divulging information as to what has led to the current predicament, eking it out for maximum effect. It shifts between the present when Snowman (Jimmy) is reflecting on events, and his past and what brought him to this sorry point in his existence. At first I thought the book would be a little bit too weird for my tastes, but I quickly became absorbed and intrigued and wanted to read on. I loved some of the little notions that Atwood came up with, they were both chilling and believable in places- particularly the extremes of reality television in the future, genetics and the lengths people will go to in keeping themselves looking youthful.
If I had to be critical, I would concede that perhaps the subject matter and some of the themes covered may be a bit dark for some people's preference (particularly some of the references to child pornography and live executions shown on TV); but for me this was a book that successfully combined them all together in a piece of fiction that unfortunately doesn't seem to be so frighteningly implausible any more. Also, the ending was a little bit abrupt, though I am led to believe this is expanded upon in `The Year of The Flood' which I am keen to read at some point soon.
If you enjoy well written contemporary (speculative) fiction and Margaret Atwood's writing then I am sure that you will appreciate this novel- it's a book to get really hooked on, though my particular favourite Atwood book is still `The Handmaid's Tale.'
on 3 December 2009
Atwood has strongly denied that Oryx and Crake belongs in the science fiction genre, finding horror a much more suitable home for it's content. It is not the lack of blood and guts which is being questioned, but Atwood's clear message that humans are a destructive violent race that enjoys playing God to the world around them, a message that is evident on almost every page. This remarkable novel looks into the future of the human race with Atwood exploiting the technologies that already exist. It is her status as a leading fictional writer that helps create such realism that the novel is hard to define as a fiction, but rather a glimpse into the not too distant future.
The novel focuses around Snowman, a sad neurotic character that now lives in a post-apocalyptic world. It is through his flash backs it becomes known what prompted the end of human life. He tells the story of a world dominated by technology in which the internet is littered with pornography and executions. It is a time where the gap between the rich and the poor is so vast it is now separated by large metal gates. Atwood's attention to detail is truly extraordinary and is what separates her from other science fiction writers of our time.
At points during the novel it is clear that Atwood's imagination is in overdrive especially with her use of language. Rakunks, Pigoons and ChickieNobs all dominate the future of household pets, and are just a small example of her creativity within Oryx and Crake. It is impossible to delve into all the twists and turns of the plot that Atwood delivers with energy and consistency, allowing even the slowest of readers to remain interested and intrigued through out. Reflecting a modern day Frankenstein with us being portrayed as the mad scientists. Atwood's status as a relevant writer makes for an eye-opening read and leaves a chill that isn't easy to shake off.
Given that much of Atwood's latest book relies on an Armageddon of modern biotechnology, she does well to avoid the pitfall of blinding us with science. Indeed Oryx and Crake is a wholly accessible dip into what our world could become if corporate nature-bending increases its steady grip in the name of progress.
Oryx and Crake is the story of Snowman, the last man on earth. Quite how he got to be, living in a tree with a sheet wrapped round him for protection, surviving on rotting fruit and rain water collected in beer bottles, as we first encounter him in chapter one, gradually unravels. Atwood mixes the present with the past seamlessly as it transpires that Snowman, formerly Jimmy, grew up closeted in a scientific compound with dysfunctional parents more intent on splicing breeds of animals to create new species, than nurturing their son. And so Jimmy meets Crake. Crake becomes his mentor but still fails to offer him the emotional support Jimmy craves.
Atwood develops Jimmy and Crake, and every other character, on cold hard lines. They obsess in the seedy world of internet pornographic voyeurism gone mad - it is here they first see the abused child Oryx . There's a mirror to the detached stark work of the unwavering science, the happy pills, the spliced new breeds, the high security corporate compounds to keep out the anarchistic and low life pleebland dwellers - or the "ordinary" people.
It is dealt with by Atwood's deft touch and managing to just toe behind the line of sensationalism and the graphic. A hint at the stuff of nightmares, a civilisation and a world being destroyed in every sense.
In the main, Oryx and Crake deals with some (less than) grand themes. And although it sometimes feels like we are merely being treated to some heady headlines with a lack of depth in places, this was surely Atwood's raison d'etre. Finishing the book one is left with a smack of sadness and little hope for the future as it is developing. It is nonetheless a rewarding and stimulating read. Atwood never fails to deliver eloquent and captivating prose and in Oryx and Crake she's pulled it off again.
on 24 December 2003
Atwood’s talent as a writer is in crafting images of reality within the context of a fantastical setting. With Oryx and Crake, Atwood presents us with two themes, the creation and destruction of Utopia, and the eventual reconstruction of a new-utopia, in which the possible future of such is left to chance. We view the proceedings through the eyes, memories, fantasies and dreams of Snowman, a dishevelled, emaciated vagabond, [who brings to mind images of Tom Hanks in Castaway] recounting his better days spent with the young Oryx and Crake, and the wretched proceedings that lead to the ultimate transformation of the world as we know it.
Here Atwood’s startling ability to mix cold, philosophical, socio-political ideology, with poetic ruminations on love, devotion and humanity are brought into play, as the writer creates a fascinating document on current state of the world traumas - post 9/11, foot and mouth, war atrocities etc - whilst overwhelming us with her bold characterisations, audacious use of language and masterful exploitation of narrative folding. The book takes some time to get moving - which is a minor quibble - but once we’re in, we’re in; and Atwood never lets us go until the final act of unspeakable, emotional destruction that ripples through the book’s closing chapters... eventually leaving us as frightened, disoriented and uncertain as Snowman himself.
It is a testament to the author’s talent that once we have finished the book, our natural instinct is to go back to page one and start all over again. Because of the multi-layered narrative and the strands of subtle clues and information that Atwood leaves for the reader throughout, it is essential that we continue to dip in and out of the story in order to further understand the book’s labyrinthine world and the writer’s delicate subtext. Oryx and Crake goes beyond the limited realms of science fiction - or even science fact - and instead, offers the reader a touching, beautifully realised depiction of social alienation on the grandest scale.
In a world where literary intelligence is continually being dulled and diluted, it is an enormous pleasure to read a work of fiction that encompasses everything that great fiction should.