Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood - New
Oryx and Crake is a novel with dystopian elements by Canadian author Margaret Atwood. Like The Handmaid's Tale, the book is often categorized as science fiction novel, but Atwood herself prefers to label it speculative fiction and "adventure romance" because it does not deal with 'things that have not been invented yet' and goes beyond the realism she associates with the novel form. Oryx and Crake was first published by McClelland and Stewart in 2003 and was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction that same year.Returning to the dystopic themes of Atwood's earlier novel The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake presents a very different scenario than that novel's theocracy. However, in both novels the collapse of civilization quite noticeably echoes current events. Oryx and Crake critically examines developments in science and technology such as xenotransplantation and genetic engineering, particularly the creation of transgenic animals such as "wolvogs" (hybrids between wolves and dogs), "rakunks" (raccoon and skunk), and "pigoons" (pigs and baboons, for organ transplants). This society, which not only tolerates but promotes such extreme commercialization and commodification of life, has also produced an exacerbated gap between rich and poor, as well as the commodification of human life and sexuality in prostitution and online child pornography. Oryx and Crake does not depend on imagining new scientific or technological discoveries; the novel merely extrapolates on the basis of technologies that are, in principle, available today and carries current social and economic developments and their attendant ethical choices to their radical conclusions. However, this cannot possibly exclude it from science fiction, since the genre includes "extrapolative" works within its core canon: this one proposed definition of science fiction.
The presence of such plot elements as the last man on Earth (as in I Am Legend) or artificial species created by misused science (as in The Island of Doctor Moreau), and setting of a post-apocalyptic future time leave the claim that this is not science fiction open to question. The protagonist of Oryx and Crake is Snowman, clad only in a bed sheet and a Red Sox cap, who appears to be the last human being on Earth. He's not entirely alone, however; strange hybrid beasts such as wolvogs, pigoons and rakunks are roaming freely. As well, a group of what he calls Crakers—strange human-like creatures—lives nearby. They bring Snowman food and consult him on matters that surpass their understanding; thus, Snowman comes across as a post-apocalyptic hermit guru. As the story develops, these assorted lifeforms are revealed to be the products of genetic engineering. In flashbacks, we learn that Snowman was once a young boy named Jimmy, who grew up in the early 21st century. His world was dominated by multinational corporations which kept their employees' families in privileged compounds separated from a global lower moiety of pleeblands. Shortly after Jimmy's family moved to the HelthWyzer corporate compound (where his father worked as a genographer) Jimmy met and befriended Glenn (referred to throughout the novel as Crake), a brilliant science student.
Atwood's satirical take on current society is presented most pointedly in the jaded activities of these two youths. Jimmy and Crake spend a lot of their free time playing online computer games such as Kwiktime Osama (a reference to Osama bin Laden) and Blood and Roses, or watching live executions, Noodie News, frog squashing, graphic surgery and child pornography. One of Crake's favourite pastimes is an online game called Extinctathon, a trivia game which requires immense knowledge of extinct animal and plant species. Using the codenames Thickney (Jimmy) and Crake (Glenn), they both play as teenagers. It is not until they are both in university that Jimmy discovers that Crake has worked his way up to become a Grandmaster. On another trip through the dark underbelly of the Web, they come across an Asian child pornography site, where Jimmy is struck and haunted by the eyes of a young girl. Unknown to Jimmy, Crake is similarly affected by the sight of this young girl. Crake eventually finds this girl (or a woman who could be her) and hires her, as both a prostitute and a teacher of the Crakers. Her name is Oryx. Jimmy identifies the haunting memory of the young girl with Oryx, though it is never made clear as to whether or not the two are the same person. Oryx eventually becomes intimately involved in the lives of Jimmy and Crake, and both fall in love with her. Oryx, however, views their relationship as strictly professional and only admires Crake as a scientist and "great man". For fun and affection she turns to Jimmy, though her feelings for him are not as clear. The two hide their relationship from Crake, and Jimmy is often plagued with the thought of Crake finding out about his betrayal.
The two male characters pursue different educational paths: Crake attends the highly respected Watson-Crick institute where he studies science, but Jimmy ends up at the loathed Martha Graham Academy, where students learn about the humanities. This field of study is, in Atwood's novel, considered a waste of time, though Jimmy develops a love of words and writing while there. After finishing school, Jimmy ends up writing ad copy, while Crake becomes a scientist. Crake uses his prominent position at the biotech corporation to launch a project to create the Crakers. His goal is to create a peaceful society that will live harmoniously with each other and nature. These genetically engineered humans are leaf-eating herbivores and they only have sexual intercourse during limited breeding seasons when they are polyandrous. Thus, many of the apparent conflicts in human culture are replaced with a mockery of intelligent design. At the same time, Crake creates a virulent genetic pandemic that, apparently, killed off all humans except for Jimmy. Jimmy was unknowingly vaccinated with the intention of acting as a guardian for the Crakers. Thus, Crake represents a mad scientist; he is maddened by the troubled society that he lives in. His rationale is that he is heroically saving intelligent life from an inevitably dying society. In the story's climax, Crake's perfected "hot bioform," present in one of his company's products, is activated and spreads throughout the world. When called to account for his actions by Jimmy, Crake kills Oryx by slitting her throat. Jimmy shoots Crake, resulting in his being left to obsess over his vanished world and unanswered questions.
Jimmy contemplates abandoning the Crakers but is constantly haunted by the voice of Oryx, and reminded of his promise to her to watch over them. Though Crake opposed and belittled human religion, Snowman instills the Crakers with his own invented religion revolving around Crake and Oryx. Oryx becomes the guardian of the animals and Crake the creator god. Crake suffers from unremembered night terrors. During visits, Jimmy hears Crake screaming in his sleep. Crake claims to not remember them. This forms one of the book's most profound ironies. Crake is a leader in the most advanced (and corrupt) health care system in human history, and Jimmy is unable to save humanity by simply getting Crake's head examined. At the same time, however, Crake attends a university referred to as Asperger's U, referring to the university's high population of incredibly intelligent, socially awkward people, which might suggest that his idea was not the product of insanity or something 'wrong' with him, but rather the knowledge that everything else around him was wrong. During Snowman's journey to scavenge supplies, he is uncomfortable wearing shoes now that his feet have become toughened without them. He cuts his foot on a tiny sliver of glass. Infected by who-knows-what descendant of transgenic experiments, his body cannot fight back, and his leg becomes inflamed. Returning to the Crakers, he learns that three ragged true humans have camped nearby. He follows the smoke from the fire and watches as they cook a rakunk. Uncertain of how he should approach them (Blast them to bits to protect the Crakers? Approach with open arms?) he checks his now unworking watch and thinks, "Time to go," leaving the reader to speculate as to what his actions and future will be.
About the Author Margaret Atwood
Margaret Eleanor Atwood, CC, O.Ont, FRSC is a Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, and environmental activist. While she may be best known for her work as a novelist, she is also a poet, having published 15 books of poetry to date. Many of her poems have been inspired by myths and fairy tales, which have been interests of hers from an early age. Atwood has published short stories in Tamarack Review, Alphabet, Harper's, CBC Anthology, Ms., Saturday Night, and many other magazines. She has also published four collections of stories and three collections of unclassifiable short prose works. She is among the most-honoured authors of fiction in recent history; she is a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Prince of Asturias award for Literature, has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, winning once, and has been a finalist for the Governor General's Award seven times, winning twice.
Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood - New
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