Oryx and Crake : a novel by Margaret Atwood

    Review by:  Linda J.

Title:  Oryx and Crake : a novel

Author:  Margaret Atwood

Collection:  Adult Fiction

Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario.  When she was sixteen, Atwood began to study at the University of Toronto. She received her B.A. in 1961, her M.A. from Radcliffe (now Harvard) in 1962, and she continued to study at Harvard. In 1968, Atwood has lived in Canada for the majority of her life, but during the 1980s, she spent some time in Germany, England, and France. She currently resides in Toronto. Atwood has also held positions as an English lecturer or writer-in-residence at various universities.  Atwood is known for both the quality and the quantity of her writing. She has published novels, shorts stories, poems, and works of literary criticism. Atwood’s identity as a Canadian author has always been very important to her, and she achieved tremendous success in spite of the serious handicap presented by her desire to be known as a Canadian writer.  Atwood has repeatedly reinvented herself over the course of her career. She has written science fiction, speculative fiction, historical fiction, and realistic fiction. Science is usually an important theme in her books, and Atwood agrees that having a father who was a scientist played an important role in her interest in exploring this field. She is quick to point out that despite the negative role science plays in many of her books, she is far from a Luddite. In many interviews, she has emphasized that science is a tool that can be used for remarkable good, but can also be an instrument of evil.

Her book, Oryx and Crake (2003), takes place in a world that is not too different from ours, but also very different from ours.  Society is divided and if you don’t live in a gated community called a compound, you live in the Pleeblands where anarchy rules.
Jimmy grew up in a gated community where his father worked for HelthWyzer, a huge corporation dedicated to developing drugs to fight illness.   His friend, Glenn, who is a boy genius, also lives in the compound. Jimmy and Glenn hang out together, get high and watch websites using Glenn’s ‘uncle’s’ credit card.  On one of the websites called hotttotts, they see a young girl who makes an impression on them.  Another website is Maddadam where they play Extinctathon, a game about extinct animals.  They have to choose a user name based on an extinct animal;  Jimmy chooses Abdominal Snowman and Glenn chooses Crake. Glenn goes on to Watson-Crick Institute, a science school, where he is working on genetic splicing projects.  Jimmy is an average student and goes on to Martha Graham Academy where he gets a degree in Problematics.  Jimmy and Glenn later meet the young girl that they had seen on hottotts and she becomes known as Oryx.
The story shows what can happen when science gets out of control.  The aftermath is not pretty as Jimmy, or Snowman as he is now called, finds out.  Snowman is living in a place called Paradice with Crakers: perfect people who have been genetically engineered.   Perfection is not all it is cracked up to be.  Snowman is just barely surviving and wonders if there are other humans still out there.   He goes back to the compound for supplies, and through flashbacks, we find out how he came to be where it is.  Hopefully, this is not how the future will turn out!

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