Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, Booker price winner and author of the bestseller, The Handmaid’s Tale delivers another disturbingly breathtaking dystopia, in her novel Oryx and Crake.
The novel begins with Snowman, a middle aged man wearing only a bed sheet as a toga and a Red Sox cap. He is not exceptionally attractive, intelligent or physically fit; he is ordinary in all aspects save one: he is the last human on earth. His only company are the Crakers, a genetically engineered species that are eco-friendly herbivores, who live solely on plant life and their own recycled waste. The species purr like cats to promote healing, and are polyandrous creatures with a specified breeding period. They are free of all greed, creativity, individuality, warfare and conflict – an efficient and environmentally friendly human replacement. They were intelligently designed by Crake, Snowman’s old friend, who single handedly engineered not only the Crakers, but a virulent pandemic, to exterminate all of human kind, save Snowman, so he can teach and protect the Crakers.
A series of flashbacks of Snowman’s life interweave with the present narrative, illuminating his past life as the boy named Jimmy, his relationship with Crake and ultimately how humankind is destroyed. Jimmy grows up on the compound of OrganIncs, a bioengineering company, where his father is an employee. He meets Crake, a scientific mastermind, and together they do what all boys do: watch kid porn, view gruesome executions online, smoke, and play the computer game, Extinctathon, a trivia game about the ever increasing number of extinct plants and animals. Theirs is a time of genetic engineering, corporate corruption, common cosmetic surgery, serious environmental issues and rampant disease pandemics. In other words, give our present a few years, let time exacerbate current problems and merely push our world down its present path, and the result could be Jimmy and Crake’s world.
Oryx and Crake slowly and craftily constructs the worlds of Snowman’s past and present, in a quick, consuming narrative. One minute, the reader watches young Jimmy’s blossoming love with the former child prostitute, Oryx, while the next they read about Snowman’s regrets and pain about his lost love. This past and present narrative quickly propels the story forward and is never clunky or confusing, rather it serves to elucidate how Jimmy’s past becomes his hopeless future and finally, how Jimmy’s past world facilitates Crake’s ultimate destruction of the human race. As the realties of Jimmy and Crake’s world begin to fully unfold and the readers learns about the corruption, dangerous genetically engineered organisms, like the vicious pigoons and overall depravity of the current society, Crake’s reasons for obliterating humanity for a more amenable alternative are clear and more frighteningly, understandable. Yes, Crake is a mad genius, but is his final act fully unjustified? Would the world be a better place without humans? This novel certainly begs that question.
Atwood’s biting and satirical deadpan prose deliver a stunning account of two possible and thought-provoking futures. The premise, in the hands of a lesser writer, could sound preachy, but Atwood describes the story exquisitely, delivering haunting details and believable characters. Her grasp and knowledge of the current dangers of science and genetic engineering are astounding and are capable of impressing scientists and laymen alike. Oryx and Crake is a bone chilling, eye-opening novel that just may change the way you look at the world.