Oryx and Crake is Margaret Atwood’s second dystopic novel, after The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a totally different story, though. In The Handmaid’s Tale, society used religion to tear itself apart. In Oryx and Crake, it’s science. If you think about it, it’s kind of a mad scientist tale. This book is chock full of things to think about, beyond the role of ethics in science. There’s the education system, where liberal arts are considered the ultimate waste of time. There’s the games they play, like Blood and Roses and Qwiktime Osama.
The story is narrated by Snowman (formerly known as Jimmy), whose best friend was the mad scientist in question. Snowman shows you want happened after the plague, with the new society that Crake (the mad scientist) created before he died. But a good chunk of the story is also told as a series of flashbacks, to the worked before the plague.
One of the things I’ve always liked about novels set in the near(ish) future, is the way that the author extrapolates from the present. They take what’s going on now and expand on it. In Oryx and Crake, Snowman’s world was highly commercial. Anything could be bought and sold. The world was segregated into pleeblands (for the plebians) and Compounds, gated communities for company employees with malls and clubs and golf courses. But the most interesting thing, I think, is what happens to science. I’ve always been interested in the story of Dr. Faustus and stories where science runs ahead of ethics, and people start to experiment without thinking about the consequences. In this novel, that’s exactly what happens. The employees of these companies create pigs hybrids that grow multiple organs for transplants, modify genes to create designer children, and search for medical procedures that can turn back or stop the aging process. There’s no regulation at all. Meanwhile, diseases are mutating at alarming rates and running through the population like wildfire.
The mad scientist in this story, Crake, joins a company that creates the ultimate sex drug–an uebervaccine that kills any STD that also sterilizes the user. But Crake uses the drug to spread a plague with absolutely no cure. Within a matter of weeks, just about everyone is dead except Snowman and Crake’s genetically modified humans.
The point of this book isn’t really the plot. Nothing much happens, plotwise. It really is more like a series of images and concepts for the reader to ponder on a while. Even though a lot of it was disturbing (especially that Blood and Roses game), I really enjoyed reading it. I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time, just like I did with The Handmaid’s Tale.