From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Handmaid's Tale
Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.
About the Author
Margaret Atwood, whose work has been published in thirty-five countries, is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. In addition to The Handmaid’s Tale, her novels include Cat’s Eye, short-listed for the Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; The Blind Assassin, winner of the 2000 Booker Prize; Oryx and Crake, short-listed for the 2003 Man Booker Prize; and The Year of the Flood. She is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Innovator’s Award, and lives in Toronto with the writer Graeme Gibson.
Date of Birth:November 18, 1939
Place of Birth:Ottawa, Ontario
Education:B.A., University of Toronto, 1961; M.A. Radcliffe, 1962; Ph.D., Harvard University, 1967
Read an Excerpt
Snowman wakes before dawn. He lies unmoving, listening to the tide coming in, wave after wave sloshing over the various barricades, wish-wash, wish-wash, the rhythm of heartbeat. He would so like to believe he is still asleep.
On the eastern horizon there's a greyish haze, lit now with a rosy, deadly glow. Strange how that colour still seems tender. The offshore towers stand out in dark silhouette against it, rising improbably out of the pink and pale blue of the lagoon. The shrieks of the birds that nest out there and the distant ocean grinding against the ersatz reefs of rusted car parts and jumbled bricks and assorted rubble sound almost like holiday traffic.
Out of habit he looks at his watch - stainless-steel case, burnished aluminum band, still shiny although it no longer works. He wears it now as his only talisman. A blank face is what it shows him: zero hour. It causes a jolt of terror to run through him, this absence of official time. Nobody nowhere knows what time it is.
"Calm down," he tells himself. He takes a few deep breaths, then scratches his bug bites, around but not on the itchiest places, taking care not to knock off any scabs: blood poisoning is the last thing he needs. Then he scans the ground below for wildlife: all quiet, no scales and tails. Left hand, right foot, right hand, left foot, he makes his way down from the tree. After brushing off the twigs and bark, he winds his dirty bedsheet around himself like a toga. He's hung his authentic-replica Red Sox baseball cap on a branch overnight for safekeeping; he checks inside it, flicks out a spider, puts it on.
He walks a couple of yards to the left, pisses into the bushes. "Heads up," he says to the grasshoppers that whir away at the impact. Then he goes to the other side of the tree, well away from his customary urinal, and rummages around in the cache he's improvised from a few slabs of concrete, lining it with wire mesh to keep out the rats and mice. He's stashed some mangoes there, knotted in a plastic bag, and a can of Sveltana No-Meat Cocktail Sausages, and a precious half-bottle of Scotch - no, more like a third - and a chocolate-flavoured energy bar scrounged from a trailer park, limp and sticky inside its foil. He can't bring himself to eat it yet: it might be the last one he'll ever find. He keeps a can opener there too, and for no particular reason an ice pick; and six empty beer bottles, for sentimental reasons and for storing fresh water. Also his sunglasses; he puts them on. One lens is missing but they're better than nothing.
He undoes the plastic bag: there's only a single mango left. Funny, he remembered more. The ants have got in, even though he tied the bag as tightly as he could. Already they're running up his arms, the black kind and the vicious little yellow kind. Surprising what a sharp sting they can give, especially the yellow ones. He rubs them away.
"It is the strict adherence to daily routine that tends towards the maintenance of good morale and the preservation of sanity," he says out loud. He has the feeling he's quoting from a book, some obsolete, ponderous directive written in aid of European colonials running plantations of one kind or another. He can't recall ever having read such a thing, but that means nothing. There are a lot of blank spaces in his stub of a brain, where memory used to be. Rubber plantations, coffee plantations, jute plantations. (What was jute?) They would have been told to wear solar topis, dress for dinner, refrain from raping the natives. It wouldn't have said raping. Refrain from fraternizing with the female inhabitants. Or, put some other way . . .
He bets they didn't refrain, though. Nine times out of ten.
"In view of the mitigating," he says. He finds himself standing with his mouth open, trying to remember the rest of the sentence. He sits down on the ground and begins to eat the mango.
On the white beach, ground-up coral and broken bones, a group of the children are walking. They must have been swimming, they're still wet and glistening. They should be more careful: who knows what may infest the lagoon? But they're unwary; unlike Snowman, who won't dip a toe in there even at night, when the sun can't get at him. Revision: especially at night.
He watches them with envy, or is it nostalgia? It can't be that: he never swam in the sea as a child, never ran around on a beach without any clothes on. The children scan the terrain, stoop, pick up flotsam; then they deliberate among themselves, keeping some items, discarding others; their treasures go into a torn sack. Sooner or later - he can count on it - they'll seek him out where he sits wrapped in his decaying sheet, hugging his shins and sucking on his mango, in under the shade of the trees because of the punishing sun. For the children - thick-skinned, resistant to ultraviolet - he's a creature of dimness, of the dusk.
Here they come now. "Snowman, oh Snowman," they chant in their singsong way. They never stand too close to him. Is that from respect, as he'd like to think, or because he stinks?
(He does stink, he knows that well enough. He's rank, he's gamy, he reeks like a walrus - oily, salty, fishy - not that he's ever smelled such a beast. But he's seen pictures.)
Opening up their sack, the children chorus, "Oh Snowman, what have we found?" They lift out the objects, hold them up as if offering them for sale: a hubcap, a piano key, a chunk of pale-green pop bottle smoothed by the ocean. A plastic BlyssPluss container, empty; a ChickieNobs Bucket O'Nubbins, ditto. A computer mouse, or the busted remains of one, with a long wiry tail.
Snowman feels like weeping. What can he tell them? There's no way of explaining to them what these curious items are, or were. But surely they've guessed what he'll say, because it's always the same.
"These are things from before." He keeps his voice kindly but remote. A cross between pedagogue, soothsayer, and benevolent uncle - that should be his tone.
"Will they hurt us?" Sometimes they find tins of motor oil, caustic solvents, plastic bottles of bleach. Booby traps from the past. He's considered to be an expert on potential accidents: scalding liquids, sickening fumes, poison dust. Pain of odd kinds.
"These, no," he says. "These are safe." At this they lose interest, let the sack dangle. But they don't go away: they stand, they stare. Their beachcombing is an excuse. Mostly they want to look at him, because he's so unlike them. Every so often they ask him to take off his sunglasses and put them on again: they want to see whether he has two eyes really, or three.
"Snowman, oh Snowman," they're singing, less to him than to one another. To them his name is just two syllables. They don't know what a snowman is, they've never seen snow.
It was one of Crake's rules that no name could be chosen for which a physical equivalent - even stuffed, even skeletal - could not be demonstrated. No unicorns, no griffins, no manticores or basilisks. But those rules no longer apply, and it's given Snowman a bitter pleasure to adopt this dubious label. The Abominable Snowman - existing and not existing, flickering at the edges of blizzards, apelike man or manlike ape, stealthy, elusive, known only through rumours and through its backward-pointing footprints. Mountain tribes were said to have chased it down and killed it when they had the chance. They were said to have boiled it, roasted it, held special feasts; all the more exciting, he supposes, for bordering on cannibalism.
For present purposes he's shortened the name. He's only Snowman. He's kept the abominable to himself, his own secret hair shirt.
After a few moments of hesitation the children squat down in a half-circle, boys and girls together. A couple of the younger ones are still munching on their breakfasts, the green juice running down their chins. It's discouraging how grubby everyone gets without mirrors. Still, they're amazingly attractive, these children - each one naked, each one perfect, each one a different skin colour - chocolate, rose, tea, butter, cream, honey - but each with green eyes. Crake's aesthetic.
They're gazing at Snowman expectantly. They must be hoping he'll talk to them, but he isn't in the mood for it today. At the very most he might let them see his sunglasses, up close, or his shiny, dysfunctional watch, or his baseball cap. They like the cap, but don't understand his need for such a thing - removable hair that isn't hair - and he hasn't yet invented a fiction for it.
They're quiet for a bit, staring, ruminating, but then the oldest one starts up. "Oh Snowman, please tell us - what is that moss growing out of your face?" The others chime in. "Please tell us, please tell us!" No nudging, no giggling: the question is serious.
"Feathers," he says.
They ask this question at least once a week. He gives the same answer. Even over such a short time - two months, three? He's lost count - they've accumulated a stock of lore, of conjecture about him: Snowman was once a bird but he's forgotten how to fly and the rest of his feathers fell out, and so he is cold and he needs a second skin, and he has to wrap himself up. No: he's cold because he eats fish, and fish are cold. No: he wraps himself up because he's missing his man thing, and he doesn't want us to see. That's why he won't go swimming. Snowman has wrinkles because he once lived underwater and it wrinkled up his skin. Snowman is sad because the others like him flew away over the sea, and now he is all alone.
"I want feathers too," says the youngest. A vain hope: no beards on the men, among the Children of Crake. Crake himself had found beards irrational; also he'd been irritated by the task of shaving, so he'd abolished the need for it. Though not of course for Snowman: too late for him.
Now they all begin at once. "Oh Snowman, oh Snowman, can we have feathers too, please?"
"No," he says.
"Why not, why not?" sing the two smallest ones.
"Just a minute, I'll ask Crake." He holds his watch up to the sky, turns it around on his wrist, then puts it to his ear as if listening to it. They follow each motion, enthralled. "No," he says.
"Crake says you can't. No feathers for you. Now piss off."
"Piss off? Piss off?" They look at one another, then at him. He's made a mistake, he's said a new thing, one that's impossible to explain. Piss isn't something they'd find insulting. "What is piss off?"
"Go away!" He flaps his sheet at them and they scatter, running along the beach. They're still not sure whether to be afraid of him, or how afraid. He hasn't been known to harm a child, but his nature is not fully understood. There's no telling what he might do.
"Now I'm alone," he says out loud. "All, all alone. Alone on a wide, wide sea." One more scrap from the burning scrapbook in his head.
He feels the need to hear a human voice - a fully human voice, like his own. Sometimes he laughs like a hyena or roars like a lion - his idea of a hyena, his idea of a lion. He used to watch old DVDs of such creatures when he was a child: those animal-behaviour programs featuring copulation and growling and innards, and mothers licking their young. Why had he found them so reassuring?
Or he grunts and squeals like a pigoon, or howls like a wolvog: Aroo! Aroo! Sometimes in the dusk he runs up and down on the sand, flinging stones at the ocean and screaming, Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit! He feels better afterwards.
He stands up and raises his arms to stretch, and his sheet falls off. He looks down at his body with dismay: the grimy, bug-bitten skin, the salt-and-pepper tufts of hair, the thickening yellow toenails. Naked as the day he was born, not that he can remember a thing about that. So many crucial events take place behind people's backs, when they aren't in a position to watch: birth and death, for instance. And the temporary oblivion of sex.
"Don't even think about it," he tells himself. Sex is like drink, it's bad to start brooding about it too early in the day.
He used to take good care of himself; he used to run, work out at the gym. Now he can see his own ribs: he's wasting away. Not enough animal protein. A woman's voice says caressingly in his ear, Nice buns! It isn't Oryx, it's some other woman. Oryx is no longer very talkative.
"Say anything," he implores her. She can hear him, he needs to believe that, but she's giving him the silent treatment. "What can I do?" he asks her. "You know I . . ."
Oh, nice abs! comes the whisper, interrupting him. Honey, just lie back. Who is it? Some tart he once bought. Revision, professional sex-skills expert. A trapeze artist, rubber spine, spangles glued onto her like the scales of a fish. He hates these echoes. Saints used to hear them, crazed lice-infested hermits in their caves and deserts. Pretty soon he'll be seeing beautiful demons, beckoning to him, licking their lips, with red-hot nipples and flickering pink tongues. Mermaids will rise from the waves, out there beyond the crumbling towers, and he'll hear their lovely singing and swim out to them and be eaten by sharks. Creatures with the heads and breasts of women and the talons of eagles will swoop down on him, and he'll open his arms to them, and that will be the end. Brainfrizz.
Or worse, some girl he knows, or knew, will come walking towards him through the trees, and she'll be happy to see him but she'll be made of air. He'd welcome even that, for the company.
He scans the horizon, using his one sunglassed eye: nothing. The sea is hot metal, the sky a bleached blue, except for the hole burnt in it by the sun. Everything is so empty. Water, sand, sky, trees, fragments of past time. Nobody to hear him.
"Crake!" he yells. "Asshole! Shit-for-brains!"
He listens. The salt water is running down his face again. He never knows when that will happen and he can never stop it. His breath is coming in gasps, as if a giant hand is clenching around his chest - clench, release, clench. Senseless panic.
"You did this!" he screams at the ocean.
No answer, which isn't surprising. Only the waves, wish-wash, wish-wash. He wipes his fist across his face, across the grime and tears and snot and the derelict's whiskers and sticky mango juice. "Snowman, Snowman," he says. "Get a life."
What People are Saying About This
“Towering and intrepid. . . . Atwood does Orwell one better.” —The New Yorker
“Atwood has long since established herself as one of the best writers in English today, but Oryx and Crake may well be her best work yet. . . . Brilliant, provocative, sumptuous and downright terrifying.” —The Baltimore Sun
“Her shuddering post-apocalyptic vision of the world . . . summons up echoes of George Orwell, Anthony Burgess and Aldous Huxley. . . . Oryx and Crake [is] in the forefront of visionary fiction.” —The Seattle Times
“A book too marvelous to miss.” —The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Majestic. . . . Keeps us on the edges of our seats.” —The Washington Post
“A compelling futuristic vision. . . . Oryx and Crake carries itself with a refreshing lightness. . . . Its shrewd pacing neatly balances action and exposition. . . . What gives the book a deeper resonance is its humanity.” –Newsday
“[A] stunning new novel–possibly her best since The Handmaid’s Tale.” –Time Out New York
“A delightful amalgam for the sophisticated reader: her perfectly placed prose, poetic language and tongue-in-cheek tone are ubiquitous throughout, as if an enchanted nanny is telling one a dark bedtime story of alienation and ruin while lovingly stroking one’s head.” –Ms.
“Truly remarkable. . . . As fun as it is dark. . . . A feast of realism, science fiction, satire, elegy and then some. . . . Atwood has concocted here an all-too-possible vision. . . . [She is] a master.” –The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina)
“A roll of dry, black, parodic laughter. . . . One of the year’s most surprising novels.” –The Economist
“Sublime. . . . Good, solid, Swiftian science fiction from a . . . literary artist par excellence.” –The Denver Post
“Dances with energy and sophisticated gallows humor. . . . [Atwood’s] wry wit makes dystopia fun.” –People
“A crackling read. . . . Atwood is one of the most impressively ambitious writers of our time.” –The Guardian
“Gorgeously written, full of eyeball-smacking images and riveting social and scientific commentary. . . . A cunning and engrossing book by one of the great masters of the form.” –The Buffalo News
“A powerful vision. . . . Very readable.” –The New York Times Book Review
“Brilliant, impossible to put down. . . . Atwood . . . is at once commanding and enchanting. Piercingly intelligent and piquantly witty, highly imaginative and unfailingly compassionate, she is a spoonful-of-sugar storyteller, concealing the strong and necessary medicine of her stinging social commentary within the balm of dazzlingly complicated and compelling characters and intricate and involving predicaments.” –The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Original and chilling. . . . Powerful, inventive, playful and difficult to resist.” –Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Brilliantly constructed. . . . Jimmy and Crake grip like characters out of Greek tragedy. . . . Atwood herself is one of our finest linguistic engineers. Her carefully calibrated sentences are formulated to hook and paralyse the reader.” –The Daily Telegraph
“Atwood does not disappoint.” –The Dallas Morning News
“Gripping. . . . Bursts with invention and mordant wit, none of which slows down its headlong pace. . . . Atwood is in sleek form. . . . [Her] prescience is unsettling.” –St. Petersburg Times
“Biting, black humor and absorbing storytelling. . . . Atwood entices.” –USA Today
“Compelling. . . . Packed with fascinating ideas. . . . Her most accessible book in years, a gripping, unadorned story.” –The Onion
“This superlatively gripping and remarkably imagined book joins The Handmaid’s Tale in the distinguished company of novels (The Time Machine, Brave New World and 1984) that look ahead to warn us about the results of human shortsightedness.” –The Times (London)
“Absorbing. . . . Atwood ahs not lost her touch for following the darker paths of speculative fiction–she easily creates a believable, contained future world.” –Seattle Weekly
“Engrossing. . . . A novel of ideas, narrated with an almost scientific dispassion and a caustic, distanced humor. The prose is fast and clean.” –Rocky Mountain News
“Riveting and thought-provoking. . . . Keen and cutting. . . . [Atwood] has grown into one of the most consistently imaginative and masterful fiction writers writing in English today.” –Richmond Times-Dispatch
Reading Group Guide
From the Booker Prize-winning author of THE BLIND ASSASSIN and THE HANDMAID'S TALE
"Towering and intrepid. . . . Atwood does Orwell one better." —The New Yorker
The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake—a novel that takes predicting the future of humanity one chilling step further.
1. Oryx and Crake includes many details that seem futuristic, but are in fact already apparent in our world. What parallels were you able to draw between the events and surroundings in the world of the novel and those in your own?
2. Margaret Atwood coined many words and brand names while writing the novel. In what way has technology changed your vocabulary over the past five years?
3. The game “Extinctathon” emerges as a key component in the novel. Jimmy and Crake also play “Barbarian Stomp” and “Blood and Roses.” What comparable video games exist today? What is your opinion of arcades that feature virtual violence? Discuss the advantages and dangers of virtual reality. Is the novel form itself a sort of virtual reality?
4. If you were creating the game “Blood and Roses,” what other “Blood” items would you add? What other “Rose” items?
5. If you had the chance to fabricate an improved (and biologically viable) human being, would you do it? If so, what features would you incorporate, and why?
6. The pre-catastrophic society in Oryx and Crake is fixated on physical perfection and longevity, much as our own society is. Discuss the irony of these quests, both within the novel and in our society.
7. One aspect of the novel’s society is the elimination of the middle class. Economic and intellectual disparities, as well as the disappearance of safe public space, allow for few alternatives: People live either in the tightly controlled Compounds of the elites, or in the more open but seedier and more dangerous Pleeblands. Where would your community find itself in the world of Oryx and Crake?
8. Snowman soon discovers that despite himself he’s invented a new creation myth, simply by trying to think up comforting answers to the “why” questions of the Children of Crake. In Part Seven in the chapter entitled “Purring,” Crake claims that “God is a cluster of neurons,” though he’s had trouble eradicating religious experiences without producing zombies. Do you agree with Crake? Do Snowman’s origin stories negate or enhance your views on spirituality and how it evolves in various cultures?
9. How might the novel change if narrated by Oryx? Do any similarities exist between her early life and Snowman’s? Do you always believe what she says?
10. Why does Snowman feel compelled to protect the benign Crakers, who can’t understand him and can never be his close friends? Do you believe the Crakers could survive in our society?
11. In the world of Oryx and Crake, almost everything is for sale, and a great deal of power is in the hands of large corporations and their private security forces. There are more private police forces in North America than there are public ones. What are the advantages of such a system? What are the dangers?
12. The book has two epigraphs, one from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and one from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Why do you think these were chosen?
13. The ending of the novel is open, allowing for tantalizing speculation. How do you envision Snowman’s future? What about the future of humanity—both within the novel, and outside its pages?
14. What is the difference between speculative fiction—which Atwood claims to write—and science fiction proper? In what ways does the dystopia of Oryx and Crake compare to those depicted in novels such as Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and in Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale?
Q: Most of your previous novels have female protagonists. Was it a conscious decision to have a male protagonist for Oryx and Crake, or did Snowman simply present himself to you?
A: Snowman did present himself to me, yes, dirty bedsheet and all.
For this novel, a woman would have been less possible. Or let's say that the story would have been quite different.
If we are writers, we all have multiple selves. Also, I've known a lot of male people in my life, so I had a lot to draw on.
Q: When The Handmaid's Tale was published, Contemporary Authors listed your religion as "Pessimistic Pantheist," which you defined as the belief that "God is everywhere, but losing." Is this still an accurate description of your spiritual philosophy?
A: I expect you don't have the foggiest what I meant in the first place. On bad days, neither do I. But let's argue it through.
In the Biblical version - Genesis-God created the heaven and the earth- out of nothing, we presume. Or else out of God, since there was nothing else around that God could use as substance.
Big Bang theory says much the same, without using the word "God." That is: once there was nothing, or else "a singularity." Then poof. Big Bang. Result: the universe.
So since the universe can't be made of anything else, it must be made of singularity-stuff, or God-stuff - whatever term you wish to employ. Whether this God-stuff was a thought form such as a series of mathematical formulae, an energy form, or some sort of extremely condensed cosmic plasma, is open to discussion.
Therefore everythinghas "God" in it.
The forms of "God," both inorganic and organic, have since multiplied exceedingly. You might say that each new combination of atoms, molecules, amino acids, and DNA is a different expression of "God." Therefore each time we terminate a species, "God" becomes more limited.
The human race is terminating species at an alarming rate. It is thereby diminishing "God," or the expressions of "God."
If I were the Biblical God, I would be very annoyed. He made the thing and saw that it was good. And now people are scribbling all over the artwork.
It is noteworthy that the covenant made by God after the flood was not just with Noah, but with every living thing. I assume that the "God's Gardeners" organization in Oryx and Crake used this kind of insight as a cornerstone of their theology.
Is that any clearer?
Q: You grew up among biologists; the "boys at the lab" mentioned in the novel's acknowledgments are the grad students and post-docs who worked with your father at his forest-insect research station in northern Quebec. Does being a novelist make you an anomaly in your family?
A: My brother and I were both good at science, and we were both good at English literature. Either one of us could have gone either way. My father was a great reader, of fiction, poetry, history - many biologists are. So I wouldn't say I was an anomaly in the family. We all did both. We were omnivores. (I read then - and still read - everything, including cereal packages. No factoid too trivial!)
Science and fiction both begin with similar questions: What if? Why? How does it all work? But they focus on different areas of life on earth. The experiments of science should be replicable, and those of literature should not be (why write the same book twice?).
Please don't make the mistake of thinking that Oryx and Crake is anti-science. Science is a way of knowing, and a tool. Like all ways of knowing and tools, it can be turned to bad uses. And it can be bought and sold, and it often is. But it is not in itself bad. Like electricity, it's neutral.
The driving force in the world today is the human heart - that is, human emotions. (Yeats, Blake - every poet, come to think of it - has always told us that.) Our tools have become very powerful. Hate, not bombs, destroys cities. Desire, not bricks, rebuilds them. Do we as a species have the emotional maturity and the wisdom to use our powerful tools well? Hands up, all who think the answer is Yes.
Q: You've mentioned the fact that while you were writing about fictional catastrophes in Oryx and Crake, a real one occurred on September 11. Did that experience cause you to change the storyline in any way?
A: No, I didn't change the plot. I was too far along for that. But I almost abandoned the book. Real life was getting creepily too close to my inventions - not so much the Twin Towers as the anthrax scare. That turned out to be limited in extent, but only because of the limitations of the agent used.
It's an old plot, of course - poisoning the wells. As for blowing things up, the Anarchists were at it for fifty years in the later nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries. Joseph Conrad has a novel about it (The Secret Agent). So does Michael Ondaatje (In the Skin of a Lion). And the Resistance in World War Two devoted itself to such things. The main object of these kinds of actions is to sow panic and dismay.
Q: Though the book's premise is serious, you included many wordplays and moments of deadpan humour. Was this difficult to achieve, or did it arrive naturally during the storytelling process?
A: My relatives are all from Nova Scotia. That's sort of like being from Maine. The deadpan humour and the skepticism about human motives are similar.
The French have an expression, "Anglo-Saxon humour." It isn't the same as wit. It's dark; it's when something is funny and awful at the same time. "Gallows humour" is called that partly because highwaymen about to be hanged were much admired if they could crack a joke in the face of death.
When things are really dismal, you can laugh or you can cave in completely. Jimmy tries to laugh, though some of the time he's out of control, as most of us would be in his position. But if you can laugh, you're still alive. You haven't given up yet.
Q: What advice do you have for readers who would like to prevent your cautionary tale from coming true?
A: I've included a small list of books at the end of this Companion. There's lots of advice in there. If you're going to read just one book, and just one chapter of that one, try the last chapter of The Future of Life, by Edmund Osborne Wilson. It's kind of encouraging. I didn't read this book in its entirety until after I'd finished Oryx and Crake, but it's a very good summation of our current position on Earth as a species.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood is a tale of human existence on the brink and speculative fiction at its best with strong dystopian overtones. Atwood introduces the protagonist Jimmy, a.k.a. Snowman, in a post-apocalyptic world destroyed and taken over by biological contamination. Jimmy lived in a wealthy scientific community isolated from the poor and contaminated population of the Pleeblands. He grows up being the latter end of a generation of geniuses and holds a rather uncaring and sardonic view of life. Jimmy's best friend Crake is a genius and becomes a successful bioengineer and innovator of complex organisms. Upon Crake's location of Oryx, an adolescent object of Jimmy's thoughts, a complex love triangle suddenly precipitates between Jimmy, Oryx, and Crake just as the world falls into disaster. After the catastrophe Snowman struggles to survive in the vicious world after human habitation and tries to reconnect with the past. The climax of the novel is a convergence of Jimmy's two timelines in an epic déjà vu revelation and suspenseful conclusion. In her novel Atwood presents a possible future of the human race according to a modern view of human nature. Her transcendence of science fiction into speculation and contemplation evokes shock and disgust at the path society is on. One branch of that path and hidden theme in the story is the sick and ironic nature of perfection: one can strive for perfection, but the flaws will always be more explosive. Like the engineer of a time bomb, Atwood locks up secrets and understanding to the complex and at times, confusing story; only when the time is right are they revealed to give the reader an overwhelming sense of epiphany. This technique stimulates the reader intellectually by drawing out predictions and hypothesis as to the origins of some of the developments. Atwood's characters are particularly inventive; their personalities are very normal, but seem out of context in a futuristic world. Her utilization of characters as conveyors of theme does not lessen the attachment and fondness for the characters that grows in the reader. Perhaps the most intriguing and amazing aspect of the novel is the possibility of some of the same events playing out in the human world in the near future. Atwood's startling realism in her fiction gives her work life, uniqueness, and awe.
Somehow both stunning and frightening. The story, the characters, and the message are beautiful--not that anything else should ever be expected from Atwood. In my opinion, this is the best she's ever written--and that's saying something.
Oryx and Crake was the first book by Margaret Atwood that I've read, and I really enjoyed it! I found the writing so accessible and readable, and loved the plot, I thought the two stories, and how they relate to each other, very engrossing; I cannot wait to read The Year Of The Flood!
Read it, it's worth your time if you ever think about the grim possibilities of our future if mankind lets it's quest for perfection get out of hand. A thought provoking story filled with dark humor and frighteningly realistic scientific possibilities. You will care for the protagonist and understand him more and more as you read his story unfold in a series of flashbacks. 5 stars.
This book is intriguing, disturbing, yet entertaining all at the same time. My main interest in the book was actually the past story told within the present. Many times during the present I felt as if the book had slowed down to a halt in the midst of entertaining action and ideas. The disasters discussed in the book are completely plausible with current technology which raises insightful thought about our current state of the world. I gave the book 4 stars rather than five because despite being entertaining for the most part, Atwood seems to castigate the majority of the human population and provides a constant sense of pessimism to any new science, technology, math, business, or "non-word" type of people. Eventually I came to feel that Atwood would be happy if everyone was an English or art fanatic from the way she glorified "Jimmy" yet continually dished technology oriented personas such as Crake. I feel scared to do a simple math equation after this book.
I liked this book a lot - once I was able to keep the characters straight. Not all the characters are easy to like and I still cared about them. This novel makes me even more aware of how careful we need to be with our environment, our science and how much we need to question our government and what it is up to!
I don't want to give too much away, but yet again (as with "The Handmaid's Tale") Margaret Atwood extrapolates and constructs a chilling future from our decaying, collapsing post-industrial world. The book hits every cultural note with perfect pitch, and leaves the reader chilled. Excellent.
The book made you want to keep reading to find out what happend to this civilization that seemed very '1984'-ish. Everything was great until the end. I think Atwood ended the book too sharply, leaving me wanting just a little more.
I was really looking forward to this book. I recently finished Handmaid's Tale and was enthralled by it. Unfortunately this book is so boring, I decided to stop after a hundred or so pages. The main (only)character has some nice psychological depth. But the story is so bad, I stopped caring. Don't bother.
With Oryx and Crake, the first book of her MaddAddam series, Margaret Atwood delivers a dystopic (but not completely hopeless) depiction of Earth following a catastrophic mass extinction event. The novel opens with an introduction to Snowman, a survivor whose story will be revealed through flashbacks and real-time descriptions in a world that has become intolerably hostile to human life. The reader is marooned in an environment of disturbing alterations- left to ponder the series of events that have led to such a devastating future. Atwood’s narrator Snowman (aka Jimmy), is character that is ultimately unreliable and frequently despicable. His skewed depiction of events and his selective memory is all the reader has as a guide, yet it cannot hide Snowman’s complicity in the catalyzing events that ultimately lead to the downfall of civilization. Margaret Atwood is truly gifted at worldbuilding, and the immersive setting is visceral and raw. Oryx and Crake sets the stage for the one of the main themes of the trilogy: the dichotomy of man’s relentless quest for dominance over the natural world, and his undeniable dependence upon it. This is deservedly one of Atwood’s most lauded books in her long career of excellent works. Good for: Dystopic/Futuristic Science Fiction; highly rated award-winners; works addressing controversial environmental topics; genetic modification positives and negatives; Canadian authors; Science Fiction/Literary Fiction blends. You may like this book if you liked: Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (or the Hulu series based on the book); Netflix’s Black Mirror Series; William Golding’s Lord of the Flies; and works by Octavia Butler, Colson Whitehead, Ursula Le Guin, and Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games trilogy).
A disturbing look at progress run amok, to the point of the destruction of civilization as we know it. The story of who, exactly are Oryx and Crake emerges over the length of the work, with the final confrontation between Snowman and Crake only underscoring Snowman's future doom and endless solitude. Well written, of course, I could not put this book down.
In a future all too plausible, thanks to Atwood's research, Snowman (aka Jimmy) is the guardian and teacher of the Crakers. Atwood's love of words and ability to wind a narrative back and forth from flashbacks to Jimmy's life to the bleak life he leads with the Crakers moves inexorably towards an ending that can't be good. Atwood's story-telling powers are at full-strength and even though it seems like there can't be a sequel, I wonder at what will happen in this modern setting where genetically spliced animals and people roam the post Crake-created plague world. Definitely a powerful read for students in grades 10 and up.
It was something of a relief to reach the end of this book, as while reading it I was wondering when I was in time(I, as reader) and what had happened, and why, and how, and who could be narrating, from which viewpoint?We are obviously in a near future, as the main character, Snowman (Jimmy), refers to communicating by e-mail, watching DVDs (but not Blue-rays, probably not invented when the book was written in 2003?), genetic manipulations, trailer parks, fridge magnets, computer games. Things evolve when Jimmy becomes a student; I kept thinking that the events were happening or had happened about now, early 21st century, and was too bewildered to try and work out dates in my mind. Also, I kept annoying myself by misreading pleeblands as plee-blands, even though I was well aware that it should be pleeb lands.The mystery takes a long time to unravel, but it does - almost; at the end we are still left wondering about the outcome. To sum up (without giving the plot, I don't like spoilers), I would say that it is chillingly enjoyable but left me wanting a little more explanation as to Crake's motives. I understand the when, the where and the how, but not the why.
I meant to read this when it first came out, but I am really hit or miss with Atwood, so I gave it a miss. But the lure of another post-apocalyptic novel was great and I¿m very glad to have read it. I can barely write about it though since it has so many layers and aspects. The story is told through flashbacks and while many references are completely unknown at first, I was drawn in completely and wanted to know everything. From the very beginning I was curious and felt as if I were in the story, not merely observing it. At first it was very hard to follow the invented vocabulary ¿ pigoons and racunks, pleeblands and BlyssPluss. But eventually things straightened themselves out. Immediately we understand that the Crakers are physically different from Snowman and have no perception, memory or understanding of the world before. One scene shows Snowman trying in vain to explain what toast is to a bunch of people who have no conception of electricity, breakfast, bread, wheat or kitchens. That difference is staggeirng - a world with toast and a world without. Fascinating and hard to imagine. Great speculative fiction. Not science fiction per se as the science is admittedly weak. But excellent characters and perspectives.
It could never be said of Margaret Atwood that she writes books that are easy, comfortable, the sort of work you would curl up with on a cozy afternoon, afgan and cup of tea to hand.It could be said of Margaret Atwood that she writes the conscience and mirror of humanity. Oryx and Crake is no exception.Right from the moment we meet the dissolute and dispossessed Snowman, aka, Jimmy, Atwood sets a relentless pace and relentless narrative. The dystopic world she creates is one which is familiar from the classic work of Orwell and Huxley, but at the same time offers a new window on the universe, and a fresh voice to this august community.If you haven't read Oryx and Crake, you should. Revision: you must. The book, as the writer, is absolute genius.
While the world-building was pretty decent, and even, at times, interesting, I just never got invested into the "present-day" storyline that follows Snowman as the "last man in the world." This is the second Atwood book that I haven't been able to finish--and although, now that I'm no longer 14, I'm going to try to get through The Handmaid's Tale again, I'm beginning to worry what this means about me and my readerly relationship with Margaret Atwood.
This is what apocalyptic science fiction should be like. I understand that she tends to disdain her work being placed in that genre but, well, that's what this book is.If you look at some of the mainstays of the category¿Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon, Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, Robert Merle's Malevil, Stephen King's The Stand, et al.¿they share the structure that the epidemic/nuclear war/disaster of choice strikes and the story focuses on the survivors coping with the aftermath. I don't want to take anything away from those works (I enjoyed each of them) but, in a sense, they share as much with the adventure story genus as they do with speculative fiction.Atwood has given us something different. Though she does show us a bit of what the aftermath looks like, it's a minor part of the book...a skeleton upon which to hang the real story: the cautionary tale of why the disaster happened in the first place. (I'm not a fan of spoilers in reviews, so I'll just leave it that the answer to "why?" might surprise you.) In a way, by exploiting that strength of science fiction that allows the author to extrapolate current social forces, Atwood bridges the gap that exists between non-fiction books that caution about what we are already doing and other post-apocalyptic works that posit something went wrong. Having taken this road, she's done an excellent job, particularly in two areas. The first is the main character of Snowman/Jimmy. He's humorous and charming, even when he's being bad, and it's easy to connect with him. Atwood has made him a product of his particular culture, yet placed him just enough outside of it to give him some perspective for commentary. For me, he was what made the story line work. The second is her portrayal of society. She managed to capture so many trends (the fetish of youth, a dumbing down of expectation and a rising hunger for "bread and circuses", a growing disparity between the haves and have nots) and weave them together into a picture that passed the test of feeling real whether one thinks we'll actually go that route or not. I'm ambivalent about the fact that there is a semi-sequel. You will either love or hate the ending of Oryx and Crake¿I loved it and might like to leave it there.
This was my second reading of Oryx and Crake, a dystopian novel set at some undisclosed point in the future, probably later this century. Snowman, previously known as Jimmy, is, as far as he knows, the last human left on the planet. On first read, I was absorbed in understanding what was going on and piecing together the narrative. How did these things happen? Is Snowman alone on the planet? Who are Oryx and Crake? In that reading, the book was primarily a polemic on the dangers of science run amok. There are also some musings on art and the impossibility of silencing the spirit. It worked, and I enjoyed it, but as a dystopia, it¿s not especially original.However, this time I was struck with how Atwood seems to be exploring how we construct reality. The scientific aspects of the story involve genetic engineering. The characters are trying to build life that isn¿t susceptible to disease, discomfort, or other frailties. But the scientists aren¿t alone in that. Before the disaster, Snowman/Jimmy worked in communications, in spin-doctoring. When he talks to the Crakers, he tells them a version of the truth that he thinks they can understand and that will not overly distress them. But the rabbit hole goes deeper. In fact, on this second encounter with the story, I¿m convinced that a lot of what is presented as truth in Snowman¿s flashbacks is in fact a massaging of the truth, designed to fit Snowman¿s fantasies. But where does Snowman¿s fantasy end and the truth begin?See my complete review at my blog.
Maragret Atwood¿s Oryx and Crake is one of the darkest post apocalyptic novels I¿ve read to date. For openers, we find that Al Gore was an optimist regarding our climate. As if that is not enough doom and gloom, Atwood tells us that bio-agri-business is the wave of the future and the pharmaceutical giants are out to get us. Not only that, but they win and everyone loses. And all this is before we get into the real plot.Despite the storyline being so dark, I found the writing almost brilliant. The techno jargon is believable and the author makes ample use of flashbacks to seamlessly give us the back-story. While the story is unique, it owes a large debt to two other stories: Johnny Mnemonic, by William Gibson, and William Golding¿s classic Lord of the Flies. Gibson, while certainly not the first, told us that drug companies are not necessarily your best friends, and that theme is echoed in Oryx and Crake. While nowhere near the proportions of Lord of the Flies, this novel deals with the nature of society and civilization while leaving you to ponder the real conclusion to the story.Despite my enthusiasm for the story, I felt there are some real problems with some scenes. The science of the story seems well researched and yet there are some descriptions that are very contrary to scientific explanation. As I alluded to, the weather conditions have been drastically altered by global warming. The setting is described as tropical. Despite this, one of the main characters comes across the bodies of people who, according to the book¿s time line, have been dead for quite a while, yet they are not in an advanced state of decomposition. There were other smaller errors, but this was the most blatant.Despite anomalies like this, I felt the underlying premise, and the man made disaster resulting from that premise, was in the realm of probability, much like the underlying cause of the plague Stephen King unleashed in The Stand. And like The Stand, you may never listen to news stories quite the same after reading Oryx and Crake. You may find yourself reconsidering your position on genetically enhanced products and foods.
I think this id the first time that I read anything by Margaret Atwood. I was duly impressed. Her language use is spotless, the plot is seamless, and the main character is solid and well depicted. Even the open ending works great, and I've never liked open endings. No more details here. I don't want this to be a spoiler, as I think this is a book to be read, no matter what your reading preferences are.
Imagine science gone amok. Then add to it the story of a young man, Jimmy (also known as Snowman) and his two friends Oryx and Crake. With this you have the heart of Oryx and Crake: A Novel by Margaret Atwood, but there is so much more to it than the sometimes complicated relationships among these characters.I was impressed with many things about this wild dystopian tale beginning with the use of imagination:"'Imagination,' said Crake. 'Men can imagine there own deaths, they can see them coming, and the mere thought of impending death acts like an aphrodisiac. A dog or a rabbit doesn't behave like that."(p 120)Here we have a difference in imagination that makes man unique while the author's imagination takes us to a future world that suffers at the hands and imagination of men like Crake (whose real name is Glenn) who will demonstrate powers of imagination that affect more than just dogs and rabbits. He is a major player in Jimmy's life, one of the few people Jimmy was ever friends with, if not the only one. Crake is a gifted student, who is clearly a scientific genius and becomes a well respected member of various bio-engineering companies. Crake, like Jimmy, never had much of a connection with his parents, and spent his time, with Jimmy, leading a dissolute life. Morals in any traditional sense seem to be diminishing on both an individual and societal level as demonstrated by their lives. Crake also has a very negative view of humanity:¿Monkey brains, had been Crake's opinion. Monkey paws, monkey curiosity, the desire to take apart, turn inside out, smell, fondle, measure, improve, trash, discard ¿ all hooked up to monkey brains, an advanced model of monkey brains, but monkey brains all the same. Crake had no very high opinion of human ingenuity, despite the large amount of it he possessed.¿(p 99)In spite of this attitude or perhaps because of it he becomes the leader of a sort of cult whose followers are known as ¿Crakers¿.Oryx, along with Crake, also plays an important role in Jimmy's life both in person and in representations of herself which appear as hallucinatory episodes for Jimmy. The narrative shifts back and forth in time gradually sharing Snowman's early life as Jimmy and the experiences that led him to become known as Snowman. These experiences all take place in the not too distant future where drugs, alcohol, and prostitution are widely accepted while advanced genetic engineering (particularly developing hybrid animals) has taken a leading role. This leads to the not so subtle suggestion that much of the progress we are making today has ethical and moral dilemmas that may lead to disturbing consequences. Unintended consequences, no doubt, but consequences nonetheless that are devastating in their impact on life as we know it and as Jimmy lived it as a youth.As I mentioned above in reference to imagination, the disintegration of the civilization in Oryx and Crake is obvious. This can be seen in the first page of the first chapter of the book where ¿On the eastern horizon there's a greyish haze, lit now with a rosy, deadly glow.¿(p 3) ¿Deadly¿ and ominous and the beginning of what may be taken as a warning to the readers as to the possibilities of what may or may not happen in the future. The future in this novel is suggested no better than the reference to a famous moment in The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe in the ultimate chapter, yet it is ironically ominous in ways that Defoe's intrepid adventurer never would have imagined.
This showed up as available on my ebooks account at the library so I decided to read it right away or I'd lose my spot on the waiting list. I didn't quite know what to expect - I'd just read a short description of the book a while back, which I reread before starting the book.At first, it was a bit confusing but the story is told in presence-tense interspersed with flashbacks so we learn what transpired in the past.Initially I wasn't sure I was really into the story but as I read more, I found myself getting more and more intrigued, wanting to find out more, learn how the world came to be this way. As others say, perhaps this is the direction our world is going in, though I don't think we are anywhere near the technology required for it. The extinctions, however, yes.Margaret Atwood has created a really odd world and I can't wait to read the next book.Update:After reading The Year of the Flood, I've decided to amend my rating of this one to 3 stars from 3.5 because I thought the second book was a lot better than this one.
Margaret Atwood scares the crap out of me. She does an amazingly good job of painting a plausible future for the world - business reins supreme and has no conscience (I know a business can't have a conscience, but the people who run them often act like they don't. Maybe it's the herd mentality? As long as everyone else is behaving immorally and profiting hugely, I will go along, too?), huge disparities between the haves and have nots (the 99% vs the 1%), environmental and societal destruction.Snowman, formerly known as Jimmy, sleeps in a tree for safety from wild animal creations, covers himself with a sheet because the midday sun is too damaging for human skin, and looks after the Crakers, human-like beings developed by his best friend Crake. Between glimpses of his survival, Snowman's flashbacks to his life as Jimmy show us how he got to where he is and how the world ended up as such.Although nothing in the book was exactly like Parable of the Sower, I could sense a little Octavia Butler in the novel. It also brought up some images of the movie 12 Monkeys, even though nothing in the book was exactly like the movie, either. I loved that in this creepy version of the future, there were no robots or mechanical enemies to fight ala The Terminator or space aliens or a Matrix. Everything that happened was controlled and influenced solely by humans. We have the power to make a better future, but are humans as a species willing to care more about each other than immediate gratification and the accumulation of power?
The ending sort of leaves you hanging yet this is a fine dystopian novel indeed told from a unique perspective.
Am looking forward to discussing this one on December 8 with Pittsburgh Goodreads.