Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 12: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

I’m not really going to be fair to this novel — just throwing that out there. Oryx and Crake is a dystopian novel with genetic engineering/biotechnology as its cause célèbre. In the present, all “organic” humans are dead, leaving only behind the protagonist, Snowman, and a small race of humans that Snowman refers to as “Crakers.” How Snowman came to be the only living human from prior generations is initially a mystery, but it is unfolded throughout the novel in flashback format.

There is a lot in the plot to unpack, and I won’t go into it in detail. This book is much more interesting for its thematic elements. In addition to tackling the ethnics of biotechnology, Oryx and Crake also discusses commercialism and consumerism, class segregation and education, and sexuality and objectification. These themes are really the meat of the novel; everything that occurs in Snowman’s flashbacks serve as opportunities for him to critically ponder the implications of the situation. It’s not really a morality play, though, because a lot of Snowman’s choices are made for him. He is just dealing with the repercussions, and has the benefit of perfect hindsight as he’s looking back on his life.

So why did I earlier say I’m not going to be fair to this novel? Well… it’s hard to explain. Novels like 1984 and Brave New World have a lot to do with psychological conditioning, and the ‘nurture’ side of things. For whatever reason, I never had difficulty accepting that this kind of manipulation could happen in real life, and that’s what made those particular stories so compelling for me (and others, I suspect.) On the other hand, novels like Oryx and Crake tackle ‘nature.’ It’s about tangible, scientific manipulation that causes animals and humans to be different from what they once were. Of course, there are real life foundations for this — GMO food is certainly controversial enough, and we use genetically-modified animal models regularly to study gene function and disease pathology. We’ve floated theories that we would eventually see ‘designer babies,’ where parents could select for certain genetic variants that improved their children’s overall fitness (in the Darwinian sense.)

I don’t know, maybe my imagination is finite and it just ends before this novel begins. But I just don’t see it coming to this. There are only a few elements in here that seem scientifically feasible, and I’m not just talking about now — I’m talking about not being feasible ever. And unfortunately, not being able to suspend my disbelief did detract from my overall satisfaction with the story. I’m not saying that it’s not good, or that it’s not well-written, or that there aren’t some really gut-wrenching moments. Overall, it’s actually pretty compelling; it’s one of those books that stays with you for awhile. So despite my personal limitations, I do recommend this one for fans of dystopic books.

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