Oryx and Crake

Hello all! Hope you enjoy my first blog post.

It took me a while to figure out what to write about. I need the content to be relevant, enjoyable, and “somehow related to Fontana Regional Library.” The process of elimination went like this: Books-Genre-Fiction-Science Fiction-Speculative Fiction-Climate Change Fiction-Margaret Atwood-Oryx and Crake.

Oryx and Crake is a 1984 of the 21st century. While Big Brother was imagined and eerily predicted by George Orwell in the 1940s, Margaret Atwood has imagined a future that is just as bizarre and frightening–a future that is both far-fetched and all too real. From gene-splicing to environmental degradation, this novel is captivating. Add a love story to this dystopian imagining, and the result is a stellar read.

Before I get started on my review of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, I must let you in on an important detail: HBO is in production stages of adapting Atwood’s MaddAddam book trilogy into a series. If nothing else, reading this futuristic, dystopian novel will have your mind churning as you try to envision its adaptation to television. The series is in production under director Darren Aronofsky who also directed films such as Black Swan (2010) and Requiem for a Dream (2000). Check out the latest write-up here: http://hbowatch.com/margaret-atwood-talks-hbos-maddaddam/

Oryx and Crake is the first book of Margaret Atwood’s trilogy titled MaddAddam Trilogy. Published in 2003, Oryx and Crake falls under the subgenres of speculative fiction (spec-fic) and climate-change fiction (cli-fi). Oryx and Crake is a novel set in the future. It is not, however a bright and shiny future that is reminiscent of The Jetsons, but something we’ve come to expect in our contemporary imaginations of the future–bleak. The setting is straight up Mad Max, The Road, apocalyptic type stuff.

At the start of the novel, we meet Snowman. Snowman is the last remaining human in a world destroyed. He is also the narrator. It is only through flashbacks that we meet any other humans or any other glimpse of the world before destruction. One intriguing aspect of this future world is that it is hard to pinpoint an actual moment in time that this is taking place. This future world could be as close as tomorrow or as far away as centuries. That uncertainty of time and future is one of the characteristics of speculative fiction and sometimes climate change fiction. There is a constant evaluation of whether or not this could happen to us now–whether or not we are already on our way to the world spread out on the pages of Oryx and Crake.

Snowman is between past and present as he indulges the audience in flashbacks of times past. The world he visits through memory is well on its way to destruction. Consumption by humans is at an all-time high while resources, ethics, and morality are at an all-time low. Gene splicing is rampant. While the practice started as an advancement in medicine, it quickly spiraled out of control when corporations began experimenting, buying patents, and developing products and procedures. Genes are spliced to have glow in the dark wallpaper, sea anemones spliced with chickens that quickly produce large amounts of poultry, organisms that grow skin so that humans can replace their old skin, etc. Each corporate gene splicing venture is labeled a quippy name–a reality we have all come to live as advertisements bombard every aspect of our public and private lives.

The tone of this novel is immediately environmental as well as political. While Snowman scans the beach around him in the first few pages, he notices various plastic bottles bearing advertisements, labels, etc. Even though the former life of Snowman (who we later learn to be Jimmy) is over, there are still many remnants of the past. There are still ubiquitous instances of advertising, branding, labeling.

Each technology becomes obsolete eventually–it is what makes a void of possibility for another world, reality, way of life. This is where Crake and Oryx come in. They are a part of Snowman or Jimmy’s past. We learn of Crake (otherwise known as Glenn) when Jimmy (Snowman) is replaying his past. He met Crake in school where they became friends through their enthusiasm for genetic studies. Glenn and Jimmy spend time together after school live-streaming videos of all sorts, playing games titled “Extinctathon” or “Blood and Roses.” “Extinctathon” is a game that gives the player scientific names of organisms, and the player must guess whether or not the animal is extinct or not. “Blood and Roses” plays like a trading game where “Blood” is the category under which the atrocities throughout human history are listed, and “Roses” is the category concerned with the advancements and positive outcomes throughout human history. These games are where Jimmy and Glenn name themselves Snowman and Crake (two extinct creatures in “Extinctathon.”

They finish high school and go to university where Crake (Glenn) fully immerses himself into genetic bioengineering studies. Crake progressively grows disillusioned and critical of the world around him as resources are poisoned, animals become extinct, human population grows, and genetic engineering is used predominantly for superficial reasons. Crake has something up his sleeve. He has been working on this project tirelessly until it reaches perfection. The end product is a group of human-like organisms appropriately called “Crakers.” They do not eat meat. They are not ashamed of nudity. They are non-violent, curious, and kind. They have no understanding of life before destruction. The Crakers are Crake’s legacy–his attempt to rid the world of problems caused by humans.

The Crakers are Snowman’s only companion in the world after destruction. While so similar to humans, they are so different. The Crakers view Snowman as something intriguing and bewildering and vice versa. What came before the Crakers and after is what this book is all about. Atwood paints this eerie future in a way that can be described as watching a car crash or blooper reel in slow motion. The story is just as much about how we got there as it is about where we end up.

Check it out!