From the series of post-apocalyptic books, from the same shelf as “I am Legend”, “The Hunger Games”, The Stand and The Pesthouse, I present you Oryx and Crake. A dystopian future in which, Atwood explained, the questions are “simply, What if we continue down the road we’re already on? How slippery is the slope? What are our saving graces? Who’s got the will to stop us?”
The main character of Oryx and Crake is the mysterious “Snowman”, a man who by all appearances seems to be the last normal human being living in a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by untold ecological disasters and runaway genetic technology. The Snowman is a pitiful character; a man plagued by bug bites, blisters, hunger, pent up sexual frustration, all the while trying to function and survive with a mind frayed at the corners by insanity.
Despite this, Snowman is surprisingly adept and tenacious in maintaining his survival. Building temporary hammocks, insulated sleeping quarters to protect from acidic rain water and lightning, all conveniently within safe distance of the feral eugenic monstrosities that freely stalk and roam across the now abandoned post-human world.
Then there’s the mysterious but benign “Children of Crake”, green-eyed creatures who appear human in all but name who seek out and interact with the Snowman as though he were the last living relic of a now extinct race, the abominable boogey-man of the post-apocalyptic world.
Snowman, because of his fragile and fractured state of mind, must constantly reassess and sometimes revise his own memories in order to understand the world around him and how exactly things got to the way they are now, “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.” These revisions come in the form of verbatim quotes from innocuous textbooks and irrelevant information that seems to have congealed into the inside of his memory, along with recollections of his early childhood and life which make up the majority of the story.
Did you think “The Hunger Games” portrayed a split up world where people were either extremely poor or extremely rich? The world of Oryx and Crake is the same, but the split is between scientists and the plebs, scientists working together to create revolutionary new products that can be marketed and sold to the rich of the world, wonder-pills that will take care of the hair loss, erection and even eradicate old-age.
Snowmann grows up as a regular Joe, average in intelligence, non-descript, a true nobody. Crake is the code name of his best friend, a boy-genius who is intent on dedicating himself to greatness. He is the one that will eventually develop the bug that will destroy all life, a new plague of plagues. Only his creations – bio-engineered humans – will survive.
He was planning on surviving too… but a twist of fate and a mis-calculated murder left Snowman alive instead of him.
A little bit about Oryx and a little bit about Crake.
Oryx is a creature of light, soft and determined at the same time. Her origins are a mist of possibilities but Snowman (Jimmy) seems to be convinced she’s the same person as an underage sex slave from an Asian country whom he has seen in a pedo-porn movie along with Crake and remembered vividly through his life.
She asks him one time: “Do you think I’m the same girl or do you wish I’m the same girl?”
She relates her story to Jimmy— sold to her “employer,” leaving her village, being taken into the city to immerse her into the sex trade. Her life revolves around this for many years.
The sex trade, as represented in the novel, mirrors real life. Children often enter the business in much the same way. Parents sell their children, are promised their children will have a better life, away from the poverty they were born to. Child prostitution exists in countries such as Thailand, Bangkok, the Philippines, and other places worldwide. According to the ECPAT (End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism) there are nearly one million children world wide involved in the child sex trade. Marketing tactics, such as postcards and brochures, aid in advertising the sex tours of children, making it more accessible to pedophiles world wide. Although many have spoken out against the trade, little is being done to stop it. One U.S. law that does seek to stop it enables the prosecution of a pedophile once they have returned to the country. Many argue that it is not enough. With increased access internationally to the child sex trade, it does not appear that the business will be dying down anytime soon.
Oryx turns out to be a great woman, loving Jimmy but at the same time being loved by un-emotional Crake. This love triangle will destroy humanity in the end as Crake finds out about Jimmy and Oryx and kills her.
Snowman – Jimmy – will later tell the Children of Crake that all animals on earth belong to Oryx and they should be returned to Oryx when they die. This setting will create a story of genesis that will function as a new Origins story (like our Bible today).
If all animals belong to Oryx, the men and women belong to Crake.
Crake, boy genius, destroyer of worlds, creator of humans. Many would work their entire lives and not reach the heights that Crake went to in his quest for the ultimate “product”. Disguising his research as a search for immortality for the consumer-driven business he was hired into, Crake, named after a bird, creates biological beings, unique in their looks and mating rituals, with independent thought and purring-based healing processes. What surprised me was the fact that he based his new humans on rabbits, making them almost vegetarians, letting them feed on grass and allowing them to consume their droppings too… Their skin would be yellow or purple or blue and their eyes would be green. They would leave a citrus fragrance behind, making them mosquito-free for life. Perfect humans able to evolve.
His downfall was Oryx – the one and only woman he fell in love with, a woman who was strong-minded and in love with his best friend. She would sleep with him too because she respected him, but she would never spend the night – she would go and see Jimmy – her secret lover.
So the children of the new world – were both Crake’s by design and Oryx’s by nurture. She would go naked in the isolated biosphere and teach them songs, words and the name of plants and how to make items. Naked – because the new humans do not know what clothes are nor do they need clothes in their new world.
About the book
I loved the book even if I found the Snowman character frustrating at times. He forgot to do so many things – he did so many other things wrong… but that is human nature, no? Plus he wasn’t the brightest of birds on a good day – let alone when he is one of the few survivors left (and going slowly insane).
“Snowman opens his eyes, shuts them, opens them, keeps them open. He’s had a terrible night. He doesn’t know which is worse, a past he can’t regain or a present that will destroy him if he looks at it too clearly. Then there’s the future. Sheer vertigo”
The best part of the book is the fact that it is a possible outcome for today’s world. A truly possible ending for our evolution as a race. And it is as possible that the new world that will rise from our ashes will be as innocent to this Earth as we once were. And they shall start once over – and they will not know so many things of our world that it will be impossible to repeat our mistakes with it.
This is perfectly exemplified by Snowman when he is trying to explain the concept of Toast to himself so that he can explain it after to the Children of Crake.
“’What is toast?’ says Snowman to himself, once [the Children of Crake] run off. Toast is when you take a piece of bread – What is bread? Bread is when you take some flour – What is flour? We’ll skip that part, it’s too complicated. Bread is something you can eat, made from a ground-up plant and shaped like a stone. You cook it… Please, why do you cook it? Why don’t you just eat the plant? Never mind that part – Pay attention. You cook it, and then you cut it into slices, and you put a slice into a toaster, which is a metal box that heats up with electricity – What is electricity? Don’t worry about that. While the slice is in the toaster, you get the butter – butter is a yellow grease, made from the mammary glands of – skip the butter. So the toaster turns the slice of bread black on both sides with smoke coming out, and then this “toaster” shoots the slice up into the air and falls onto the floor…
‘Forget it,’ says Snowman. ‘Let’s try again.’ Toast was a pointless invention from the Dark Ages. Toast was a ritual item devoured by fetishists in the belief that it would enhance their kinetic and sexual powers. Toast cannot be explained by any rational means.
Toast is me.
I am toast” (98).
About the Author
Born in Ottawa in the autumn of 1939, Margaret Atwood grew up in Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She attained her B.A. from Victoria College, University of Toronto and her M.A. from Radcliffe College. Atwood has written more than 50 works of poetry, children’s fiction, fiction, and non-fiction. While she is most known for her many novels, her book, Blind Assassin, received highest acclaim winning the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Currently, she lives with Graeme Gibson in Toronto.
Margaret Atwood – On Fiction, the Future and the Environment