Oryx & Crake
Oryx & Crake - Margaret Atwood
2003, 443 pages
I may have mentioned before how much I love The Day of the Triffids. In fact, I may have to write a second review of the book, so I can talk about how great it is all over again. The first review was a little too… detailed in the plot, and not detailed enough in the gushing about how great it is. Let me reiterate: Day of the Triffids is great. Fantastic. Creepy. Hopeful. I think it’s the best book I’ve read set during the end of civilization as we know it. I never thought that vicious plants would stick in my memory quite like it has. The image of a helpless populate, stumbling through the city streets hasn’t left my brain. The triffids themselves? Horrible caricatures of zombie plants with a description mostly left to the imagination? Great. Lovecraftian. The incompletely described monsters are always the best. It’s not a non-stop horror, and the character moments, and the learning to survive moments are touching and heartwarming. It’s. Just. So. Good. I want to stop writing this and go read it again but I don’t know who has my copy of this book.
I’m supposed to be talking about Oryx & Crake. Let me tell you why it reminds me of Day of the Triffids. It’s great. It’s not set during the actual collapse of society, it’s set a few months after, as our protagonist, Snowman, has to survive a new life with the genetically modified super animals. It tells us how society fell into this situation in long and vivid flashbacks. It’s got creepy creatures hiding in the shadows. And mad science!
The future described by Atwood is just horrifying enough to be true, and that’s one of the great things about Oryx & Crake. She does a great job of demonstrating a slippery slope that mad science can lead people down. I’m not actually concerned with genetically modified crops; I think their benefits at this point greatly outnumber the risks. Agriculture has always been a process of genetic modification: cull out the bad, keep the good, figure out how to make it better. However, the pigoon is a creepy almost-reality: a pig bred to grow replacement organs for humans. I’m not a big fan of this. Atwood does a good job with the incompletely described monsters.
I didn’t like Oryx. I couldn’t figure out why she was so monumental in Snowman’s life. It is sort of explained near the end, but to me she didn’t ring true. Crake on the other hand? Loner genius with crazy schemes and the brains to pull off his plans? I know him. She totally got the obsessive genius right. I didn’t really like Snowman that much, but I don’t think we were supposed to.
It has been suggested that at some point in her career, people stopped editing Margaret Atwood and let her ramble on incessantly like a blogger talking about how great Day of the Triffids is. This book does not suffer from this fault. Atwood’s writing is concise, and there isn’t much chaff here; just wheat. It’s didactic in parts — I get it: genetic modification is bad — but it doesn’t go overboard with sermonizing.
My least favourite end of the world as we know it book is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s terrible. The thing that makes it terrible is nothing good ever happens in the entire book. Oryx & Crake is certainly lighter fare than that. It has a sense of humour and happy bits, even during dreadful situations.
So to summarize:
Oryx & Crake: great. Day of the Triffids: even better. The Road: bad.