Title: Oryx and Crake
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: Fiction, speculative fiction, dystopian, science fiction
Where I got the book: I purchased this book at Norli.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: In the future, biogenetic engineering run by multinational corporations has taken over the world. A man previously known as Jimmy grew up in a privileged gated community. He’d spend his leisure time with his brilliant friend Crake, playing online games and watching underground videos. Years later, after the global catastrophe, Jimmy lives in a tree and goes by the name of Snowman. The voice of Oryx, the woman he once loved, continues to haunt him. The children of Crake, the primitive but perfect creatures following him, are his responsibility. Through Snowman’s fragmented recollections of the past we learn about the fall of humanity.
“EXTINCTATHON, Monitored by MaddAddam. Adam named the living animals, MaddAddam names the dead ones. Do you want to play?”
– Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
“Oryx and Crake” is the first book in Atwood’s “MaddAddam”-trilogy and in my eyes she set the bar high for the continuation of the series! The ending is just so open and uncertain and now I have to get the second book, “The Year of the Flood”, as soon as possible. At this point I’m only holding back a star in my rating because I’m pretty sure this trilogy will eventually become a 5-star read for me.
This book throws you straight into the current state of affairs, there’s no initial build-up or background, and you just have to keep reading in order to figure it out. As we get to know Snowman, the protagonist, it all gradually makes sense. Information is seamlessly weaved together and it becomes clear how much of a visionary Atwood is. I’m really impressed – and horrified – at how much the novel’s concept escalated and yet it all seems plausible. Again, just like with “The Handmaid’s Tale”, I can see why Atwood describes the novel as speculative fiction rather than just plain science fiction. So many things in this book already exist for us in our time. The technology is highly advanced but definitely not unlikely. We are familiar with killer viruses and genetic hybrids. Even the desensititzation that is described in the story, especially towards violence, poverty, and pornography, isn’t very far from the truth.
The story jumps a lot between past and present events and the tense often changes, but in my opinion not to the point of confusion. It’s a bit slow to begin with, mainly thanks to the abrupt and somewhat disorienting start, but the more pieces we collect of Snowman’s past, the more we understand how this relates to the present. Add to this Atwood’s brilliant and insightful prose and her excellent characterizations, even though they sometimes may seem a bit detached from Snowman’s point-of-view, and in the end you’ve got yourself a very engaging story.
My favorite aspect about this book however is its overarching philosophical approach. As mentioned, we are already familiar with the concepts, we have already played with them, and there has already been results – so what happens if we just keep going without limitations? How far can we go in the name of science? Where do we stand concerning the morality of our actions and what would it take to stop us? If man has the power to create something that in their eyes is perfect, should they do it? And if this kind of perfection can actually be achieved, then who has the right to decide whether it’s allowed to exist or not? The more you think about man playing god in this way – and succeeding – the more terrifying it seems. I definitely got some associations to “Frankenstein” from the questions raised in this story; Atwood just takes it all even further. This is also maybe the most interesting and credible take on the “mad scientist”-trope that I’ve read/seen so far. There’s just a level of arrogance present in this particular character that is very believable, but there are moments when it doesn’t even register with you and that’s scary.
This is indeed a very depressing dystopian novel but at the same time it’s a morbidly fascinating one and I highly recommend it. It’s a different kind of horror that stays with you, it’s very easy to imagine, but I enjoyed reading it. I love when books turn out to be more than you expected and actually embrace so much more. In this case, “Oryx and Crake” transcends the genre of science fiction. I also really love the way Atwood structures her novels and plays around with her ideas – and she has terrifyingly many. This is only the second book of hers that I’ve read but she’s quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I can’t wait to read more of her work!