|Oryx and Crake|
|publisher||Random House, 2003|
|summary||A retelling of the story of Adam and Eve--except in reverse. The world isn't beginning, but ending.|
The novel is a mad scientist story, where humans play God for pleasure and profit. It's a last-human-left-alive story. It's a projection of a dystopic future, where all political and economic power is held by militaristic corporations.
Most of these themes have been explored before, and they're introduced in the first couple chapters of the book. But they're handled so well, I feel like I'm spoiling the reader's experience by listing them here. Never mind, read the book anyway. Maybe you've seen this stuff before, but you haven't seen it written like this.
The measure of science fiction isn't the uniqueness of its concepts--it's what the author can do using the ideas as tools. It's about how intensely a book can penetrate into the reader's imagination, and this is driven by a writer's talent (not the raw ideas).
Margaret Atwood writes stories that are deeply layered and voiced in an incisive, conversational tone. Despite its bleak themes, Oryx and Crake is far from depressing--it's mostly cheerful and upbeat, which turns out to be a fine way to write about obsession and love and revenge and the end of the world. Somewhat like Neal Stephenson, Atwood's writing doesn't take itself too seriously. It's chock full of wordplays and grimly humorous subtexts. The result is a book that works as both a dark comedy and an allegoric drama, but feels like a conversation between the author and the reader.
Some parts of Oryx and Crake approach horror--not blood & guts horror, but what someone from the 1700s might feel if a time traveler explained the basics of how nuclear weapons, school shootings and Internet porn work today. Atwood pulls very few punches when imagining the possible extensions of humanity's greed, lust, hatred, and cold-bloodedness. Her easy pace, artful characterization and humorous touch fully engages the reader's mind, and her willingness to shock takes full advantage of the open target. The result is a mental chill that takes a long time to fade.
It's not a perfect book. Even at 374 pages, some episodes of the story arc seem abbreviated. Some of Atwood's future visions seem a bit contrived, but this depends on whether she's going for humor, symbolism, shock value or sheer inventiveness on a given page. Most pages (including the following excerpt) are a well-stirred mixture:
It's too early to tell if Oryx and Crake will earn Atwood the same acclaim as The Blind Assassin and The Handmaid's Tale. Regardless, it's a powerful book--unnerving, moving and well worth reading."On day one they toured some of the wonders of Watson-Crick. Crake was interested in everything--all the projects that were going on. He kept saying "Wave of the future," which got irritating after the third time.
First they went to Decor Botanicals, where a team of five seniors were developing Smart Wallpaper that would change colour on the walls of your room to complement your mood. This wallpaper--they told Jimmy--had a modified form of Kirilian energy-sensing algae embedded in it, along with a sublayer of algae nutrients, but there were still some glitches to be fixed. The wallpaper was short-lived in humid weather because it ate up all the nutrients and then went grey; also it could not tell the difference between drooling lust and murderous rage, and was likely to turn your wallpaper an erotic pink when what you really needed was a murky, capillary-bursting greenish red.
That team was also working on a line of bathroom towels that would behave in much the same way, but they hadn't yet solved the marine-life fundamentals: when algae got wet it swelled up and began to grow, and the test subjects so far had not liked the sight of their towels from the night before puffing up like rectangular marshmallows and inching across the bathroom floor.
"Wave of the future," said Crake."
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