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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.
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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.
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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.
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on 27 December 2004
I'd never read Atwood until I picked up this book - lured as I was by the premise of a lonely, unhappy, daydreaming drifter who lived in a tree, and looked after some mysterious children; the snip of a price tag; the elegant silver cover. The blurb was (is) curiously coy and vague, which only intrigued me further. I did something else that I don't usually do but probably should do more often - read a paragraph or three, finding the prose beautifully simple and expressive, not too flowery or contrived.
The story follows the lives of Jimmy, Crake and Oryx, in a future world where the wealthy are segregated from the plebs in gated compounds - fortresses within a land ravaged by natural disasters; disasters precipitated by mankind's rape of its resources. The plebs live in the desolate 'Pleebland' - the lawless, dangerous, anarchic remains of today's world. Meanwhile, science prospers - in search of cosmetic perfection, promises of eternal youth and immortality. But science is abused by one genius with deadly consequences for mankind ... the only survivor is Jimmy, now calling himself Snowman, protector of a small colony of genetically engineered humans who have had all the vices of mankind flushed from their genomes and upon whom it is incumbent to go forth and multiply. Probably.
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on 25 January 2016
I have read a few Margaret Atwood books before and have enjoyed them. I love a dystopian story, so after having heard so much about this trilogy, I thought this would be a perfect book for me.

The main character in the book is Snowman (or Jimmy as he was previously called). Snowman lives in a tree and is starving, lonely and grieving. He believes that he might be the last human left in the world after a virus killed everyone else. After promising his lover Oryx that he would, Snowman acts as as sort-of father figure to a group of genetically engineered almost-humans called Crakers, named after Crake their creator.

Oryx is the only woman that Snowman have ever really loved and Crake is the creator of the current situation and Snowman's best, and only, friend.

The story is told as two narratives, one set in Snowman's present and the other a series of flashbacks leading up the Snowman’s current situation. In this way, we learn both what Snowman is doing now and how the world came to be in its present post-apocalyptic state.

I didn’t love this book but I didn’t not love it. I felt that is wasn’t as strong as some of Atwood’s other books that I have read and I didn’t seem to get involved in the story. The plot was easy to follow and the writing flowed well, there were a few amusing lines and the ending is interesting. I think that I will still read the other 2 books in the trilogy but I was slightly disappointed with this one.
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VINE VOICEon 1 November 2003
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.
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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.
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I enjoy Science Fiction (or Speculative Fantasy, if you prefer) when it extrapolates from the current situation and develops themes to give us a 'What If?' world of the future. What If... we used pigs to grow organs for human transplant? What If... we developed guard dogs that couldn't be tamed? What If... a mad scientist tried to wipe the slate clean and return the world back to its Garden of Eden status?

Margaret Atwood has neatly and enjoyably tied all these threads together, and thrown in half a tonne more social commentary about parental relationships, child abuse, sexual trafficing, globalisation, the ethics of genetics and whether it's right to lie to your girlfriend (or boyfriend).

Her exceptional talent is that you don't feel as if you're being lectured, nor do you get bogged down in a sudden deluge of righteousness. This big novel scampers along at a good pace. You can empathise with Jimmy-the-Snowman who is our lead character, and you can hope for his eventual redemption (even if it is a touch unlikely). I suspect it panders to the audience a little, in that we can feel smug when the idiot-savant genius mad scientists inevitably destroy their own world, but that's no bad thing.

Atwood has pulled together the threads of SF to build a relevant novel which comments on our society, but which is entertaining and involving even if you don't much care for the underlying message. It's easy to read in chunks -- took me four or five days of a half hour each day -- and is the kind of book which inspires you to take an extra half hour off, just so youy can see how it turns out.

Will it date? No more than Animal Farm, 1984, Frankenstein or The Time Machine have dated, and they all use much the same format. Science Runs Wild! Humanity Perishes! Serves us Right! Etc.

I've not read any Atwood for a while -- this was probably the first of her novels I've picked up for 7 or 8 years -- but enjoyed this one so much I'll look out for her next.
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on 16 May 2006
Having read other Atwood novels, and science fiction novels, I found this book an entertaining mixture of both. Yes, she may not explain the science bits in detail but that's not really the point. She gives you enough detail to set the scene and explores the character of Jimmy/Snowman in a post-apocalyptic world. I found it gripping and darkly comic. Ignore all the moaning about this book, I would definitely recommend it!!
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Set sometime in the future, this post-apocalyptic novel offers cautionary notes about the environment, bioengineering, the sacrifice of civil liberties, and the possible loss of those human values which make life more than just a physical experience. As the novel opens, some unknown catastrophe has occurred, effectively wiping out all human life.
Snowman (known as Jimmy in his youth) is the lone survivor, a man on the verge of starvation in this desolate new world, now living in a tree for protection against "wolvogs" (part dog, part wolf) and serving as the protector of a bioengineered strain of humanoid children. As Atwood alternates between the unexplained disaster in which Snowman finds himself at the outset of the novel and flashbacks to his youth and early adulthood, which he shared with his best friend Crake, she brings a dismal future-world to life.
We never see Jimmy/Snowman engaging in the kind of personal conflict which would have led to such a grand-scale disaster, nor do we ever really experience the intense reader involvement which might have developed from observing such a conflict. Most of the real conflict, in fact, takes place in the past and is revealed only in flashbacks. Snowman’s primary conflict is his final, lonely battle with the environment to stay alive, something which advances an environmental message at the expense of dramatic tension. Characters also are subordinated to message. We know only as much about Jimmy/Snowman as we need to know in order to empathize with him in his predicament as possibly the last man on earth. The other characters are remote and distanced.
Despite its grim subject and cautionary message, the novel has a great deal of humor. With trenchant satire, Atwood pokes fun at aspects of our contemporary lives carried to extremes. Not hard science fiction, the novel is a vividly described picture of scientists run amok in a society which has failed in its guardianship of the environment and of life itself. The novel is more light-hearted than terrifying, and more allegorical than heart-stopping. Mary Whipple
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