Thoughts on Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake is a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood. She calls it speculative fiction, but it’s clearly entrenched in dystopia.

[…] creation of a nightmare world, or dystopia, where utopian ideals have been subverted. Many novels combine both, often as a metaphor for the different directions humanity can take in its choices.

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The subject of this novel isn’t a happy one. It deals to what happens to our world a few years into the future, when humanity is killed off by a weaponized virus. This isn’t a new concept in fiction. It’s been exploited by a variety of media for quite some time, from the British TV series from the 70s Survivors, which was recently remade by the BBC, to the Resident Evil series of video games.

Mad Max and 12 Monkeys are other great examples. More recent examples can be found in I Am Legend, the Will Smith The Omega Man remake and 28 Days. Charlton Heston starred in a few dystopian movies like Planet of the Apes and Soylent Green. Anything set in a post-apocalyptic setting has dystopian tendencies. For example, Terminator is most definitely dystopian, because that future is ruled by machines. The series and the movies tell the story of characters trying to stop Judgment Day. In essence, from that perspective, I believe that stopping Judgment Day in the Terminator-verse, is actually impossible. Humanity is heading toward a technological singularity with AIs, machines, and robots. There is no way for a few people to stop this. There will always be someone who will continue this research. In essence, the Terminator world is doomed by Judgment Day. Many authors and scientists believe that if machines ever become intelligent, it would hasten a technological singularity.

There is something perverse about reading this, since it’s possible, really possible, not something in some remote future. The characters are vivid and alive. Atwood starts her narrative after the catastrophe and explains through the pages how it came to be. It boils down to a love triangle between Snowman, our protagonist, Crake and Oryx.

Even though it seems that during most of the book, humanity is extinguished, there is still life on earth. Engineered lifeforms have taken over the wildlife since the original animals have all but disappeared.

Crake also genetically engineered humanity’s next step in evolution, which Snowman and Oryx call the Crakers. He tried to eliminate our flaws, but ended up destroying love and what made us human. The Crakers have no art, no love, no human feelings. They have their strange habits which have been imprinted on them by their genetic code. They are a mix between animal and human. They are perfect to Crake, but ultimately utterly flawed. A host of new genetic features are present in them, but they just serve to limit their freedom.

It’s a hard book to read.

Wait, that’s not true…

It’s an easy book to read, but it’s a hard book to digest. I finished it last week and I’m still thinking about it. The concept isn’t new, but Atwood is a superb writer and in as such, delivers a great story.

It all boils down to a love triangle gone wrong. Crake was so broken by love that he broke the world.

With my last breath, I spit at thee.
Khan-Noonien Singh, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan

Crake did the same to Snowman, who had been seeing Oryx behind his back. At least, that’s what Crake things, since Snowman started dreaming of Crake years ago, when she was still starring in web videos.

I’m not sure if I should actually discuss from where Oryx came from. You’ll probably understand if you have read the book. Atwood touches upon the human trafficking of pre-pubescent girls in the sex trade. It’s disturbing. Needless to say that Snowman was marked by her in his teens. It was the haunting look no her face that stayed with him for 10 years. Crake stole her from Snowman, so Snowman stole her back in the last years before the fall.

I recommend this book. It’s a book that will make you think. At least, that’s what happened to me when I was reading it. I read it in two days.