I’ve never read Attwood before but am conscious of her reputation, so I picked up Oryx and Crake recently, having found out it is something of a predecessor to her latest novel The Year of the Flood. It’s a post-apocalyptic, dystopian novel of stunning imagination and creativity, though a bit uneven.
The story is told through the experiences of Snowman, who used to be called Jimmy. Due to his friendship with the genius Crake he has survived an apocalypse in the company of the Crakers, a bunch of simple, naive and beautiful, naked humanoids. Oryx is the woman he loved and remembers painfully who the Crakers believe created all the animals and the plants. Many of the animals are dangerous, genetically modified creatures, like the snat (snake/rat), a long tail with a furry bit at the end and a deadly bite, the wolvog, a splice of dog and wolf, which can lure you in with its apparent friendliness before devouring you. You get the idea.
The first half of the story I found a little tedious, to be honest. It details Snowman’s life with the Crakers, but the reader doesn’t find out the cause of the disaster, only hints and descriptions of the aftermath. Its a limitation of the story-form I think, choosing to tell the story only through the eyes of Snowman an only in flashback. But it absolutely flies about one third of the way in when Snowman makes a journey back to the place where it all began. On this journey we get flashbacks to his life before, and how everything led to the hell he now experiences.
Attwood claimed, apparently, that the book isn’t science fiction. Instead, based on existing science she extrapolates to what would happen if this science was taken over by a mad genius. So the novel takes place in a world of ravaging pandemics, genetically modified plants and animals let loose on an unprepared planet. It is also fundamentally unequal. Those with ability are housed in military style gated communities whilst the rest are confined to the lawless pleeblands.
Attwood’s imagination is incredible, and often very funny.
The Crakers are interesting. Simple and naive people, from whom all aggression has been removed by the adjustment of the drive to lust, so removing the need for war but also the pain and joy of love. Copulation is now only during a particular mating season – the description of which is hilarious. I would just love to see it dramatised on the screen. At the end of the book we see them beginning to develop sacred language and primitive worship, something that Crake had hoped to remove entirely from them, thinking that he could create a new race of beings, placing them in a manufactured Eden and removing from them the mistakes God made the first time.
Interestingly, the argument is made by Crake that if this generation of humans was destroyed in a cataclysmic event there would be no recovery since all the raw materials and minerals near the surface of the earth have been removed and the deeper laying seams could not be accessed.
The ending is left open-ended, a little frustratingly. But well worth a read.