Goodreads: Oryx and Crake
Series: MaddAddam Trilogy #1
Summary: Snowman is the only human left alive, and by thus by default the caretaker of the genetically engineered Crakers. As he watches over this new species, he teaches them and reminiscences about their beginnings: Before the world ended, Crake was his genius best friend, and Oryx was their lover.
Review: Oryx and Crake is a well-written speculative fiction that follows the question “What will happen once we begin to become highly successful with genetic engineering?” to what Atwood clearly thinks is its natural end. Her answer is rather bleak: First, biotech foods will become so cheap and efficient that real foods will be a luxury only for the rich. Social classes will be based on proficiency in math and science, with geniuses receiving the best of everything. Second, someone will eventually be smart enough he thinks he can play God, and the results will be catastrophic for the earth and the human race.
So does this seem right? Atwood does strive to base her novel entirely on existing science in order to lend some realism and actual terror to the book, but I cannot say I was personally horrified. Yes, scientists are working on some of the experiments she mentions even now, so this could happen, but I think I have a bit more faith in the human race than she does. There are dissenters in Oryx and Crake, people who believe all this science and “creation” is dangerous and wrong, so Atwood does recognize the controversy, but her speculation is that the scientists will be in league with the government and too powerful for the dissenters to stop. Again, this is possible, but Atwood does not give a clear trail indicating how all this happened in the first place, which makes it a little more difficult to buy into.
As for the story itself, Atwood tends to drag things out. Much of Oryx and Crake is about Snowman’s personal life, which eventually all ties into the dystopian plot events, but the effect is often more intimate than exciting—another reason why the book is not terrifying, despite its suggestions about our near future. This is also a novel where the entire premise is that the author refuses to tell the reader what actually happened until the end.
On one hand, I appreciate building suspense. On the other hand, I am beginning to be suspect of such books. Something seems disingenuous about telling a story where the author refuses to tell the story, but instead just leaves tantalizing hints for roughly 400 pages. One begins to wonder if the story is good enough that people would care if the story were just told chronologically –or if the book is using “suspense” as a crutch. In the case of Oryx and Crake, I do think the story could stand on its own merits. Atwood seems to be building a certain type of atmosphere by withholding information, since the story is from Snowman’s POV and he has to ease into thinking about his own traumatic past. Even recognizing this artistic decision, however, I found Oryx and Crake a bit frustrating.
Oryx and Crake is an interesting and a supremely thoughtful book. After reading this and about half The Handmaid’s Tale, however, I think Atwood’s style is a little too slow and boring for my taste. This may be another case where I will be just interested enough in plot events to read the Wikipedia summary, once the third book is published.
Content Note: Atwood is quite interested in sex. Much of this book focuses on describing the pornography Snowman used to watch and Oryx’s (possible) former life as a sex slave.