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Oryx And Crake
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on 9 February 2018
I think this is a great book. If you like dystopian &/or post-apocalyptic novels then you are sure to like this. It is very well written, of course. (Well, it's Margaret Atwood - what would you expect!)

I love the way that the novel flit's back and forth in time, threading the whole story together from both ends. The characters are great and well written - it centers around Jimmy/Snowman, but all other characters are well explored and tyou get a real feeling for how & why they end up as/where they do. The descriptions of the future presented here are disturbing, but also it is easy to see how you could get to there from here. This is presented as a credible near-future vision, which makes it all the more scary.

So, I liked it very much and I recommend it. I will add that this is the first of a trilogy and I have to say that the second book MaddAddam did not grab me quite as much, but worth giving a go also if you want to continue the story (albeit via a different set of characters).
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on 9 September 2017
Having tried to read this book a number of times and not being able to get my head around the various genetically engineered animals and the future described, I downloaded it as an audio book to listen to on my half hour commute on foot. Found it so much easier to get into this way.
The narrator is good at separating the character voices and is easy to understand, though I did find his voice for Oryx a little irritating.
The plot is brilliant once you get into the world Atwood creates. Initially I found it slow to get started but all the detail in the beginning is important to the story later. I found certain parts gripping, like when Snowman gets trapped in the tower after the storm - so much so that I found myself loitering outside work to hear what happens next. It made me really want to start reading the second book straight away!
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on 19 January 2018
Brilliant book written by one of the most significant writers of our time. I've read this book several times, along with the other books in the MaddAddam trilogy (The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam). These act as prequel and sequel to the story depicted here in Oryx and Crake so once you've read this book you just have to read the others.
Oryx and Crake reads like an alien play set in world of ecological and human devastation where the results of scientific experiments threaten survivors. It is the most abstract book of the trilogy. When I first read it, Margaret Atwood was still working on the second and final parts. I remember not being able to wait until I could follow up on this strange, cruel story. We don't know much about the world in this book, other than it has become hostile and frightening but right from the start we do identify and care for Snowman, the main character and the human condition he portrays. It's one version of our future and I itched to know how we got there. If you like science fiction and can suspend your need to have a full explanation as to why each thing happens, do read this book. The issues Margaret Atwood raises are significant and relevant to our lives today - some you'll find more difficult to accept than others but Atwood's writing is so seductive, she can challenge us and make us think about what is happening in society whilst immersing us into an absorbing fictional world
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on 26 December 2016
In this book the creation myth of Genesis is turned upside down, back to front and inside out. It's Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat re-staged by the Phantom of the Opera in a bizarre absinthe-fuelled fit of subterranean creativity.

In the near future, biotechnology companies based in closed communities have developed limitless abilities in the manipulation of life. Inevitably, some young genius decides to create humanity in its state before the Fall. What if people could have contentment designed into them and knowledge designed out of them? The people resulting from this demented project have no ability to grasp the manner in which they were created. Following a planetary meltdown caused by an engineered plague, these Adams and Eves emerge blinking into the light. They have to be told what has happened to them in terms of vaguely mythical nonsense dreamt up by a second rate advertisement copywriter.

Some people think Oryx and Crake is a cautionary tale about too much technology. That's true only up to the point where it becomes a cautionary tale about idealising ignorance. This is a story of many colours. Don't expect a tune that you can easily whistle.
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on 8 October 2015
Brilliant ideas as Atwood is brave enough to observe our free market technological excesses that make fascism look like an old and shy experiment. Children are encouraged to desensitise themselves from violence and sadism through live online pedo porn and snuff (execution) videos.

However as with Angela Carter I have a problem relaxing with the book and loving its voice as the style is a knotted rope of nouns that makes me feel like I am reading German and TV advertising or worse: a German TV advert! It is noun after noun, with phonetic catchiness ("Rejoovenate" etc) which to a European other language native speaker looks like an ugly barrier but also like computer programming code. Sci FI used to be beautifully written and have longer - deeper-meaning bearer- sentences but since the US TV communication mode took over all forms of oral communication in English speaking countries, most sci fi and dystopian futuristic novels are written like a script skeleton, like a bare structure for a literary writer to re write. I am aware that after reading Primo Levi, Aldous Huxley, Arthur Rimbaud and Alain Fournier and also the great Rene Barjavel, contemporary English -language sci FI or fantasy literature looks brutally or economically written when in fact Atwood has as much talent as all these writers, it is just the literary standards of the market that dictate this (to me, dry and short) style.
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on 29 October 2013
This is novel within the so-called category of speculative fiction. It is written in brilliantly effervescent prose about an apocalyptic scenario, the near annihilation of the human species. We enter it after the apocalypse has already taken place and, in essence, the story retraces the events that led to it. Since this is Atwood, we can tentatively assume that her interest are unlikely to reflect the Armageddon per se but rather the potential for applying a magnifying glass to what it means, for good or for bad, to be human.

Our reader-friendly narrator is the jokily self-depreciative Snowman - Jimmy in a former life. Jimmy's remorseful and backward-directed eyes, unstable emotions, and scatological humour guide us through the disquieting genesis of the catastrophe. Sleeping in a tree to avoid predation, he is far from happy to find himself one of a handful of survivors. Devastated by guilt, resentful of what new role might be expected of him in this brave new world of scarcity and danger, he gazes angrily at the drowned skyscrapers of a former great American city in the bay opposite his roost, haunted by what part he himself might have played in the catastrophe and pining for the happiness he has lost.

The Oryx and Crake of the title were his best, and most formative, friends dating back, at least in the case of Crake, to the world of his adolescence. But as the narrative unwinds we discover that this world was already morally bankrupt. Walled-off and guarded compounds accommodated the super-rich, isolating them from the semi-feral "pleeb-lands" beyond. Wealth, and social status, was centred on profit-driven genetic engineering of animals, and even humans, for sundry disreputable purposes including body parts. In Snowman's sceptical, oft-times parodic, memories of his childhood, schooling and dysfunctional family, we witness a world already hurtling down the slippery slope. His mother, herself a scientist working in genetic engineering, abandons him during a conscience-driven breakdown. Little in the way of direct explanation is offered in the narrative so we are obliged to interpret her motivations and actions through her baffled and less than devoted son. We also witness, through the wonderfully scatter-brained and sex-addicted adolescent male ruminations of Jimmy, the inanely stupid potentials of genetic engineering in a world devoid of moral compass. The hugely altered pigoons (transgenic pigs), the threatening wolfogs, and the people-friendly rakunks ( hybrids of raccoons and skunks), typify the brainless experimentation and greedy exploitation.

Atwood employs a formidable arsenal of literary skills to enliven her narrative, including crystal clear language, cutting edge street talk, the spiritual leprosy of internet pornography, arresting neologisms, and, as with Snowman, a relentless, desperately ironic viewpoint. Indeed, with Jimmy/Snowman she may have created one of the noteworthy characters of modern literature.

The rise to self-assertive pragmatism of the delightful and mysterious and quintessentially oriental Oryx from the vilest degradation to pragmatic human being is the second great characterisation. Of the key characters in the book, I have to admit that she is the one I would most like to share a conversation with over a bacon sandwich and glass or three of Cognac.
While dystopia and apocalypse is hardly novel as a theme, this is a disturbing, highly original and yet still highly entertaining foray into that seductive darkness. One senses, and identifies with both the anger and challenging spirit that drives the novel.

Sent from an internet café in the Canaries October 29 2013
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on 18 June 2012
Okay, to contrast a few of the opinions already expressed about this book: I don't care if a book is derivative or shocking, I don't mind swearing, I don't mind graphic scenes of sex and/or violence, and I certainly don't mind suspending disbelief for a few hours. I'm not a literary type and essentially, first and foremost, what I'm looking for in fiction is at least one character I can like and an engaging storyline.

I liked the characters of Jimmy and Crake, and I liked (reading about) the future-world that Ms Atwood placed them in. We were off to a good start!

I didn't understand the point of the Crakers, other than the blindingly obvious. I'm fairly sure I missed something there, some symbolism or deeper truth: but what was it? I felt, as some others have mentioned, that the character of Oryx was a bit thin, and defined more through Jimmy's eyes than in its own right.

There was, for me, a definite disconnect between the humourlessness of the plot/setting and the quirky, amusing names handed to all manner of entities throughout the text. For me, this got more annoying towards the final third of the book.

The ending was where I really lost my bearings. It just..ends, and again, I couldn't find any meaning to it.

I don't regret reading the book - it was a fun little dip into Ms Atwood's vision of a future. She researched the scientific material well and I was convinced, she used a well-worn plot - but stamped her mark on it and she created some interesting characters to carry the load of moving the story along. I just can't shake the feeling that either the book isn't that deep - or my brain isn't sufficiently powerful to plumb its depths.

So, overall, an "I liked it" four stars.

I'm off to try and find an analysis of this book - and also to order my copy of Ronald Wright's novel "A Scientific Romance" - which I've seen mentioned a few times in other reviews as a worthy contender/superior.
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on 18 January 2014
Snowman lives in tatters up a tree spinning mythology to the genetically engineered Children if Crake in a post apocalyptic world in which most humans are dead from disease and in which genetically spliced creatures such as pigoons and wolvogs provide daily hazard. Snowman muses on how all this has come to pass. This is a near future novel of ideas that is strongly reminiscent of John Wyndham but with more cynical and knowing characters. This is what the future might look like after the mentality of corporate power, short-term profit, and the pornography of sex and violence combine in clever minds. A highly imaginative fable that kept me gripped throughout.
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on 13 August 2015
Where does our increasingly commoditised world take us, dominated as it is by large corporate entities ? Does the corporate effectively become the state, selecting its “employees” from childhood based on their predicted future capacity to add scientific know-how to the corporation ? As all “knowledge” is now captured, recorded and available on the internet, does regular society become increasingly dumbed-down, with those who opt-in fed on a diet of inane entertainment and leisure, and genetically modified food, while living in faceless corporate compounds ?

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Margaret Atwood thinks so, and it is a vision she returns to in the sequel to this novel, The Year of the Flood (2009), whilst also echoing the society of the Handmaid’s Tale which she wrote in 1985. Humans are valued only for the corporate value that they generate, and there is a clear material hierarchy between corporates themselves. The vision echoes a Marxian view of a society which is in the immediate pre-revolutionary stage, as capital dominates absolutely and labour, indeed 99% of humanity, is commoditised. And as in Marx, such a society is inherently unstable, and carries the seeds of its own inevitable destruction. In this case the destruction is apocalyptic.

We see the world through the eyes of Jimmy, an apocalypse survivor, whose post-apocalypse name is “Snowman”. He is also a figurehead leader of tribe he has named the Children of Crake. The Children of Crake is a naive and unsophisticated group of survivors of (as yet) unknown provenance who look to him for their material and spiritual guidance, and whom he in turn manipulates, by getting them to provide him with basic foodstuffs and materials. Snowman lives mostly in a tree, because the landscape is populated with wild and dangerous genetically modified animals – for example Woolvogs, a deadly cross between wolves and dogs, and Pigoons, balloon shaped humanoid sentient pigs bred to host human transplant parts – all roaming free after humanity was pretty much wiped out.

The story flips back and forth between pre and post “final destruction”, as we learn more about Snowman’s (aka Jimmy’s) previous existence. His mother who left home (and hence the corporate compound) because she refused to assimilate herself into the commoditised world. She was thus a revolutionary and a security risk, and eventually killed by the corporate security service, the CorpsSeCorps. His “corporate citizen”father’s new wife, the compliant Ramona. Jimmy’s relationship with Crake, his childhood friend, far more intellectually gifted than Jimmy, and eventually landing a place to study genetic research at the Watson Crick Institute, whilst Jimmy goes and studies humanities at the Martha Graham Academy. Inevitably Crake’s ability takes him to a secretive and lucrative role in the field of genomics. And finally there is the woman Oryx. Loved by both Jimmy and Crake. Lover of both Jimmy and Crake. The tie that binds them and the force that splits them. And the subject of Snowman’s woeful reminiscences.

Snowman eventually ventures out of the tree, driven by the need to find food. And as his scavenging treck unfolds, we slowly learn the devastating truth about how and by whom the destruction of society was actually caused. Compelling, to use the reviewer’s cliché.

We get the feeling that Atwood is a pessimist about the capacity of a society dominated by the pursuit of self-interested profit to reach a long-term equilibrium that is both stable and morally good. And given the current debates around extreme income inequalities in our current financial-crisis ridden world, there is much food for thought here as to where that world is heading. Surely though, history has taught us that there are in-built circuit breaks that prevent society from lurching into extreme states of self-destruction ?
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on 26 March 2014
This is one of the greatest books by one of the greatest authors living today. If you are a fan of Atwood's work I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Oryx and Crake is the first (and arguably best) book in a trilogy that includes 'The Year of the Flood' & 'Maddaddam' (two other great works of literature - just not quite as good as this one in my opinion).
It is ostensibly a sci-fi book (set in a post-apocalyptic world that could easily be our immediate future) but I would argue that it is more of a tale of loss and unrequited love that happens to be set in a science fiction universe. The story is great by itself but the sci-fi elements add savour to the writing as a whole.
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