– some spoilers ahead-
Margaret Atwood is probably one of my favourite authors; her prose has a hypnotising, ethereal, beautiful quality to it that’s irresistible, and her stories are incredibly original while simultaneously unsettlingly close to reality. That brings us to the book which scares me the most, her own Oryx & Crake, the first establishment in what is to be the Maddaddam Trilogy.
I suppose you’re wondering why, given the rollbacks on reproductive rights in both my native country and my current home, why I chose Oryx & Crake as opposed to The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s because I see the world of Oryx & Crake, where corporate interests dominate, artistic pursuits and their output are dismissed outside of their advertisement/propaganda applications, and the gap between rich and poor reaches unthinkable levels, to be closer to the future which awaits us* than the world where religious oligarchs reduce women to factories for producing children, ala The Handmaid’s Tale. The anti-choice religious right movement does frighten me, but they are on their way out of the world stage of relevance, and their recent spike in activity is more a credit to them knowing they’re approaching their death knell rather than them gaining any political or social legitimacy comparable to that possessed by your average Fortune 500 Company.
Oryx & Crake’s story takes place in two times: The future immediately following a disastrous event which leaves humanity at large wiped off the earth, with one survivor called Snowman/Jimmy observing a humanoid species called “Crakers”, and the timeline of events which led up to this mass extinction of humanity. The urban landscape which Jimmy inhabits is never given a name, it could be anywhere in North America, Toronto, New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver, the point is, it very well could be your city. It’s a place where wealthy multinational corporations kept their employees in insular communities which never went without luxuries, separated from the “Pleeblands” by walls and armed guards. Jimmy grows up in one of these compound communities, and it’s there he meets the eventual mastermind behind humanity’s eventual extinction, Glenn, also our titular Crake.
His brilliance and his jaded disinterest make him seem like a typical Nietzsche wannabe teenager in many cases, but he goes far beyond that. Crake and Jimmy cure their ennui through the internet, watching porn, live executions, squashing videos, anything gory and slick enough to alleviate their boredom for a while. That’s not too far off from how I spent my teen years, and I imagine not much has changed. The two’s life paths cross repeatedly, until Crake ends up using Jimmy as part of his final grand scheme which he fancies as saving intelligent life from a society that’s rotting from the inside out. That is how Jimmy ends up alone with the Crackers, genetically engineered creatures who (Crake believes) lack the capacity to damage the earth the way humans have. In his isolation and reminiscence, Snowman shows us a society that’s far too similar to our own, and, scarily enough, provides a lot of meat for Crake’s argument that it’s destroying itself and must be destroyed before its too late.
Sometimes the scariest books are ones that reflect back at you everything you fear about yourself and the world around you, and Oryx & Crake fits that perfectly.
*In the parting word
s of the Lorax, “Unless…”