Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Book Review – Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake
Margaret Atwood
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 0747562598
384 pages

It only seems fitting that since I’m currently reading Atwood’s “The Year of the Flood” that I review her dystopian masterpiece “Oryx and Crake” as well. Both are set in the same apocalyptic future universe with events that run parallel and simultaneously to each other and contain some of the same characters and places. Perhaps, I thought, it’s a good time to construct a tandem review. (“The Year of the Flood” 2009 to follow.)

Are we doomed to repeat our mistakes?

What if synthetic genetic biology, horizontal gene transfer, and bio-engineering had no restrictions or laws? What would the world become if these scientific pursuits were allowed to evolve and experiment unchecked and without repercussion? What if a scientist with unscrupulous morals and unlimited resources decided to play god, believed that humanity was flawed beyond salvation, and was arrogant enough to think that he could do better? This is the setting, albeit a harrowing alternative one, of the world of “Oryx and Crake.”

Crake is a prominent scientist at HelthWyzer, a biotech corporation, and he decides to create his own version of a utopian society that will live harmoniously with each other and with nature. The genetically engineered results, part-human herbivores that are programmed to have sexual intercourse only during specific breeding seasons are the last remaining “humans” in a society that has engineered itself into extinction. The “Crakers” have been created without cultural conflict, without inhibitions, without anger or hatred. But in the process of creating the perfect society something else has gone horribly wrong.

Civilization has collapsed. An unidentified plague or disease or “waterless flood” has been released. Only a very few survive. The innocent Crakes, the moral compass of the “people,” Snowman, the mad/brilliant scientist, Crake, and his rescued paramour, Oryx are the last remaining members of the human race. Bizarre bioengineered, hybrid creatures roam the barren lands, civilization has disappeared, and the Crakes must learn to live in this brave new world. Can Snowman point them in the right direction or are we doomed to repeat our mistakes?

I’m not entirely sure how it happened but the first few books of Atwood’s that I read were her dystopian works, “The Handmaid’s Tales,” Oryx and Crake,” and most recently, “The Year of the Flood.” Each is an exceptional snap-shot of a world that could easily ‘become.’ Unlike most of the other dystopian fantasies I’ve read Atwood does not spend 300 pages extolling the evils of man, pushing and poking her point until it blurs into a political agenda. Instead, she proposes an alternate scenario of a “what if” world and allows her imagination to roam freely within it. And she does it expertly and with an edge that makes it so believable that we should make it required reading in every corporate setting that touches bio-engineering in any form. It should be read in high schools to deter would-be scientists from becoming too amoral. It should be read by government as a cautionary tale. Quite simply, it should be read!

There is something absolutely compelling about Atwood’s characters, her settings, and her science. The characters are so endearing that they almost become family members, the settings so natural yet surreal that they resemble the universe next door, and the science so believable as to be frightening. An enjoyable read… but with consequences.

5 out of 5 Stars

Main Characters:

* The Crakers – An innocent group of bioengineered children and the inheritors of the Earth.
* Snowman (Thickney) – “Father” figure and protector of the Crakers and an old classmate of Crake.
* Crake – a brilliant geneticist/mad scientist who devises a plan to rid the earth of Homo sapiens and replaces the current “destructive species” with a more peaceful and environmentally friendly human-like creature: the “Crakers.”
* Oryx - a mysterious woman symbolically related to a waif-like girl from an online child-pornography site that begins to haunt Crake as an adolescent and whom he “rescues.”

Xeno-transplanted and genetically engineered creatures:

“wolvogs” (hybrids between wolves and dogs),
“rakunks” (raccoon and skunk)
“pigoons” (pigs and baboons, for organ transplants)

Related Websites:

Margaret Atwood Official site:

Margaret Atwood Wikipedia Entry:

Margaret Atwood Society Page:

Official Oryx and Crake website:

Google books:
Wikipedia Entry:


Publisher Site (Year of the Flood):

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

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