Oryx and Crake
"Snowman opens his eyes, shuts them, opens them, keeps them open. He's had a terrible night. He doesn't know which is worse, a past he can't regain or a present that will destroy him if he looks at it too clearly. Then there's the future. Sheer vertigo." (p 147)
Imagine science gone amok. Then add to it the story of a young man, Jimmy (also known as Snowman) and his two friends Oryx and Crake. With this you have the heart of Oryx and Crake: A Novel by Margaret Atwood, but there is so much more to it than the sometimes complicated relationships among these characters.
I was impressed with many things about this wild dystopian tale beginning with the use of imagination:
"'Imagination,' said Crake. 'Men can imagine their own deaths, they can see them coming, and the mere thought of impending death acts like an aphrodisiac. A dog or a rabbit doesn't behave like that."(p 120)
Here we have a difference in imagination that makes man unique while the author's imagination takes us to a future world that suffers at the hands and imagination of men like Crake (whose real name is Glenn) who will demonstrate powers of imagination that affect more than just dogs and rabbits. He is a major player in Jimmy's life, one of the few people Jimmy was ever friends with, if not the only one. Crake is a gifted student, who is clearly a scientific genius and becomes a well respected member of various bio-engineering companies. Crake, like Jimmy, never had much of a connection with his parents, and spent his time, with Jimmy, leading a dissolute life. Morals in any traditional sense seem to be diminishing on both an individual and societal level as demonstrated by their lives. Crake also has a very negative view of humanity:
“Monkey brains, had been Crake's opinion. Monkey paws, monkey curiosity, the desire to take apart, turn inside out, smell, fondle, measure, improve, trash, discard – all hooked up to monkey brains, an advanced model of monkey brains, but monkey brains all the same. Crake had no very high opinion of human ingenuity, despite the large amount of it he possessed.”(p 99)
In spite of this attitude or perhaps because of it he becomes the leader of a sort of cult whose followers are known as “Crakers”.
Oryx, along with Crake, also plays an important role in Jimmy's life both in person and in representations of herself which appear as hallucinatory episodes for Jimmy. The narrative shifts back and forth in time gradually sharing Snowman's early life as Jimmy and the experiences that led him to become known as Snowman. These experiences all take place in the not too distant future where drugs, alcohol, and prostitution are widely accepted while advanced genetic engineering (particularly developing hybrid animals) has taken a leading role. This leads to the not so subtle suggestion that much of the progress we are making today has ethical and moral dilemmas that may lead to disturbing consequences. Unintended consequences, no doubt, but consequences nonetheless that are devastating in their impact on life as we know it and as Jimmy lived it as a youth.
As I mentioned above in reference to imagination, the disintegration of the civilization in Oryx and Crake is obvious. This can be seen in the first page of the first chapter of the book where “On the eastern horizon there's a greyish haze, lit now with a rosy, deadly glow.”(p 3) “Deadly” and ominous and the beginning of what may be taken as a warning to the readers as to the possibilities of what may or may not happen in the future. The future in this novel is suggested no better than the reference to a famous moment in The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe in the ultimate chapter, yet it is ironically ominous in ways that Defoe's intrepid adventurer never would have imagined.
Oryx and Crake: A Novel by Margaret Atwood. Anchor Books, 2004 (2003)