Oryx and Crake was an extra assignment given to me by my Political Science Fiction professor after I went to her and told I was “under-stimulated” (her words, not mine) by my classes. At the time we were about to start The Handmaid’s Tale, which I read this past May and enjoyed, and upon mentioning this fact, she instructed me to read Atwood’s finalist for the 2003 Booker Prize and the 2003 Governor General’s Award.
Since she listened the audio book, her plan was that I would read it and upon finishing it, we’d compare notes. I’m interested in what she’ll have to say about her experience listening because my experience reading certainly does not match up to her previous statements. Needless to say, I struggled to enjoy Atwood’s science fiction novel.
Snowman, the main character and perceivably the only human left living, is the caretaker of the Crakers, or the Children of Crake, the mad scientist of this tale. Complicating this story, though, are the friendship between Snowman (also known as Jimmy) and Crake – formulated in their youth, this friendship struggles to last through college after Crake heads to the prestigious Watson-Crick Institute and Snowman to the arts-based Martha Graham Academy – and each boy’s relationship with Oryx, the character we’re given the least insight into. Originally, Oryx’s mother sells her to a man who blackmails others for trying to have s*x with her; later, she’s passed along to a child p*rnographer and the video she “stars” in is the first time Snowman and Crake see her. The video haunts Snowman; it’s barely a blimp on Crake’s screen. After landing a job at a biotech corporation, Crake creates both the Crakers – innocent and peaceful, these genetically engineered humans are herbivores whose, um, parts turn blue during their limited breeding seasons – and a genetic pandemic that, apparently, kills all humans except for Snowman. His final product, though, provides the climax of this tale.
I liked the concepts behind the novel – corporate parasitism, ethics, humanity, science over arts, genetic engineering – and I thought quite a bit of it was a reflection of life today. Of course, this is the whole point of science fiction novels, and I would have been disappointed if this had not been the case with Oryx and Crake. One thing I did noticed, though, was the similarities between Atwood’s novel and several I have read for my political science fiction class. For example, in “The Product of the Extremes” by Brenda W. Clough, a genetically-based pill eliminates racism and, ultimately, race; in Oryx and Crake, Crake believes the BlyssPluss pill will eliminate racism. It will certainly make a good talking point when I meet with my professor on Friday.
So what didn’t I like about this tale? I really struggled to get into the novel because I didn’t like any of the characters. Crake was too much of a mad scientist, Snowman rubbed me the wrong way, and Oryx played both men. Ultimately, though, it was the lack of information and lack of characterization of all three main characters that bother me. Structurally speaking, Oryx and Crake suffers from being both physically too long and from taking too long for the story to move forward. The whole thing is told in flashbacks as Snowman reminisces as the Crakers pester him for stories of their creator. The vulgarity and the fact that sex was everywhere in this novel really turned me off to it. As boys, Snowman and Crake play “Kwiktime Osama,” which mimics the actions of its reference, and “Blood and Roses,” a graphic videogame where players play historical rivals and battle to the bloody, gory death. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Commentary on today? Of course. Unnecessarily nauseating? Resoundingly yes. And I still don’t understand Crake’s motivations for his actions; there’s no clear reasoning for anything that happens.