SynopsisPigs might not fly but they are strangely altered. So, for that matter, are wolves and racoons. A man, once named Jimmy, lives in a tree, wrapped in old bed sheets, now calls himself Snowman. The voice of Oryx, the woman he loved, teasingly haunts him. And the green-eyed Children of Crake are, for some reason, his responsibility.
What Did We Think?
Oryx and Crake represents something new for our little bookclub. It represents our first foray into "respectable literature"; it is, after all, not science fiction at all but "speculative fiction". *ahem*. Atwood herself writes: Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction, not a science fiction proper. It contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians. Whatever our opinions on the etymological differences between science fiction and speculative fiction, whether we think this is a science fiction novel or not (it is), what did we think of it?
The overall feeling was positive. Praise was found for the writing style, the balance of "present" and flash-back scenes, the imagery, the light-hearted tone for otherwise dark material. It was called lively, spirited and well written. This was after all a novel which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and made many critics' book of the year lists in 2003. It is a tribute to Atwood's writing at she makes genetic engineering, gated communities, big business corruption, and ultimately genocide, into readable and enjoyable literature.
In terms of the characters, Crake was a fascinating example of the ruthless genius. Hard to classify as a real villain but certainly a schemer, with an inhumanly monstrous intellect and possibly without empathy. The flipside of the coin is Snowman / Jimmy, our protagonist and the most human thing in the novel. His character arc from innocent child to mentally broken, impractically minded agent of God, via layabout student and dead-end office worker, was both fascinating and enjoyable. Equally enjoyable were the genetic creations of the novel, the eerily intelligent Pigoons and lethal Wolfogs, for example. Criticism landed on Atwood's failure to find a decent strong female character, not even the titular Oryx, despite her reputation as a feminist.
Thematically the contrast of religion and science triggered considerable debate, leading to a discussion of humanity's need for religion and/or science and whether it was inevitable that the Crakers, if they can be called human, would need one or both. Atwood's message of "science imperfect" also got noticed, despite Crake's undeniable genius his plague didn't succeed in wiping out all humanity and it seems that nature is stronger than he anticipated both in terms of an organism's ability to survive but also in the sense of "human nature" as we see familiar traits emerging amongst the Crakers such as leadership and mythology.
The votes were as follows: 9, 9, 8, 8, 3.
The sequel to Oryx and Crake is called The Year of the Flood and is out in paperback in August 2010.
You may also enjoy these illustrations for the novel provided by Jason Courtney. I particularly like his depiction of a Snat, whilst the Pigoons are just scary.
And here is Atwood's article on why we need Science Fiction, or Speculative Fiction, if you prefer...