Book review: Oryx and Crake

“Oryx and Crake”
might fall under the science fiction fantasy genre but it is in incredibly powerful book because it is written so convincingly by Canadian author Margaret Atwood like a piece of doomsday prophecy that the make-believe scenarios are so convincing.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, genetically modified (GM) animals and products of other Frankenstein-styled experiments humans have conducted went awry only to set off a slew of calamitous consequences where the chickens came home to roost. The sole survivor of the disaster is a man who calls himself Snowman with the responsibility to protect a group of good-natured but defenseless GM creatures once created by his best friend.

The main reason I was strangely drawn into the book is that it feels like humanity, since the novel was published in the past decade, is slowly walking down the ominous path Atwood had dictated in her fictional MaddAddam World. This similar message was quite recently also expounded by American restaurant chain Chipotle in their wonderfully presented advertisement/animation film.

Through the Snowman, Atwood voices her concerns and reservations about the genetic engineering industry, which in her book is dominated by groups of mega firms. They alter the DNA of various life forms and natural processes to leave far-reaching impact upon the general population but purely out of selfish reasons to mine it for their own benefit.

“That’s all we need,” Said Jimmy’s mother. “More people with the brains of pigs. Don’t we have enough of those already?”

“Can’t you be positive, just for once? All this negative stuff, this is no good, that’s no good, nothing’s ever good enough, according to you!”

“Positive about what? That you’ve thought up yet another way to rip off a bunch of desperate people?” said Jimmy’s mother in that new slow, anger-free voice.

“God, you’re cynical!”

“No, you are. You and your smart partners. Your colleagues. It’s wrong, the whole organization is wrong, it’s a moral cesspool and you know it.”

“We can give people hope. Hope isn’t ripping off!”

“At NooSkins’ prices it is. You hype your wares and take all their money and then they run out cash, and it’s no more treatments for them they can rot as far as you and your pals are concerned. Don’t you remember the way we used to talk, everything we wanted to do? Making life better for people – not just people with money. You used to be so… you had ideals, then.”

As I was going through this book, it felt like reading into the chilling future of the homosapien species as we lead ourselves down an inevitable road of self-destruction in our fanatic pursuit of the everlasting and immortal life even if it means to manipulate nature. Atwood poses serious bioethical and moral questions to readers about how far are we are going to draw the line between bettering lives with science and playing God.

“I thought you didn’t believe in God,” said Jimmy. “I don’t believe in Nature either,” said Crake. “Or not with a capital N.” Hypothetical.

This is a gem to remind me of my humanity. Our humanity that is.


18 thoughts on “Book review: Oryx and Crake

  1. That video was both beautiful and terrifying. It was horrible to see that cow trapped in the metal enclosure. I feel very strongly against animal cruelty. This book combines my love for science fiction, the contemplation of the universe and my fascination with biotechnology. Great, great post.

  2. That video was both beautiful and terrifying. It killed me to see that cow trapped in its metal enclosure. Animal cruelty is something I feel very strongly against. Oryx and Crake sounds amazing as well. It combines my love for science fiction, the contemplation of the future of humanity and biotechnology. Great, great post.

    1. The thought of humans tinkling with natural processes has always been an area of contention, particularly when asking ourselves how much is enough. In the MaddAddam series, Margaret Atwood speculates about the negative consequences of such experiments to portray a bleak future for the human kind that makes it frightening but ominously believable.

  3. I need to read this and the other two–I think there are two sequels. I write science fiction myself, and I love Atwood’s work. Have been out of touch with her since Cat’s Eye. It’s time.

  4. Love this whole trilogy. Read Oryx & Crake several years ago and then was delighted to hear just a month ago on the radio (Q with Jian Gomeshi in Canada) that there was not one but two sequels! Jumped online to the wonderful Book Depository website and have now read all three. Someone needs to turn this into a movie franchise…

    1. I could totally see this as a successful movie franchise. The thought of seeing futuristic factories producing chicken breast in science labs without the head, legs and other non-functional parts on the silver screen though chilling would make for some visually appealing scenes.

  5. This is one of the first Atwood’s that I’ve read which lead me to read Year of the Flood and Maddaddam years later. Even when she is writing speculative fiction, it still reads very grounded in reality.

  6. Margaret Atwood refers to this book as ‘speculative fiction’ using the research method Siobhan states. Halfway through the third in the series Maddadam. Enjoyed the first two – concentrated reading required!

  7. Oryx and Crake is one of my favorite books! I can’t wait to read MaddAddam (which is sitting, taunting me, on my bookshelf by my bed!) Also. . .in terms of the whole science fiction thing, Atwood once said in an interview that she would call it “speculative fiction”–I think it fits better with the differences you are trying to establish, too! 🙂

  8. This book has been on my TBR for what feels like FOREVER! And I love Margaret Atwood so I don’t know why I haven’t gotten to it yet but I’m really happy to see a review 🙂 Thanks!

  9. This makes little sense — “might fall under the science fiction fantasy genre but it is in incredibly powerful book ” — is your implication that SF is generally NOT powerful or well-written?

    1. Ah, that’s not what I mean. Rather I’m trying to say that given that fantasy fiction is usually a piece of work that’s based on pure imagination and we can usually differentiate it from reality. But because Oryx and Crake is very much grounded on today’s development in the genetic engineering industry, just a hyper inflated version of actuality, such that it makes the make-believe more believable and more real that it becomes a powerful book.

      I should perhaps try to correct the way I phrase my wording in my post. Thanks for pointing it out (:

      1. I still don’t understand what you’re trying to say — ” that’s based on pure imagination” — what? There are tons of surrealist, fabulist works in fiction that are not really based on our reality…. Also, there are TONS of near future type SF that are virtually in our current world with slight differences. The dichotomy you are establishing is somewhat off and too general.

  10. I loved Oryx and Crake and Year of The Flood. I have Mad Adam upstairs ready to read as well. Margaret Atwood’s research process for her novels is really interesting, lots of clippings from newspapers and what-ifs.

  11. Thanks for this post. Oryx and Crake was recommended to me in the last few months and I really enjoyed it. I tried The Blind Assassin years ago and couldn’t get into it. Have been meaning to read the sequel, The Year of the Flood.

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