Thursday, May 15, 2008

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake
Margaret Atwood

At last another good book. Oryx and Crake is a well written novel documenting the fall of humanity as a result of our own actions and foibles. This is another book recommended by el dogo, but this time his taste and mine agree.

Atwood creates a believable world - well, all except for the product and company names, which seemed too cute to me. But then again, I've seen some of the names they use in Japan, so maybe she's right. In any event, in this future bioengineering is commonplace, entirely unregulated, and totally under the control of large corporations. In fact, I don't think the government is ever mentioned or invoked, so I have to guess it doesn't exist or is impotent.

The protagonist is Jimmy, one of the last survivors of a bioengineered global catastrophe. Jimmy is watching over a group of heavily engineered "humans" who were designed to survive the disaster. Saying too much more on that topic would be a spoiler, so I'll stop there.

There are other characters as well, particularly Oryx - Jimmy's girlfriend with a "difficult past" - and Crake, a genius Jimmy went to school with.

The story is told in flashbacks, gradually exposing the history of the disaster and those who made it happen. The characters are believable, though sometimes disturbing.

And there we hit another aspect of this novel: Atwood's dark vision of the future. If you have a sensitive stomach this is not a novel for you. Just about every form of degrading human behavior is discussed somewhere, and most of it is presented as entertainment in various ways, even for the young. Executions, sex in any form, torture, rape, it's all just "out there" on the net for anyone to watch or participate in. If this work represents Atwood's real outlook for humanity, it's bleak, even setting aside the projected effects of genetic engineering.

There is a lot to recommend this work, and a lot to think about. Read it if you can.