Oryx and Crake.
When I was younger and stupider, I eschewed all science-fiction as being for “geeks.” Oh, self. Why did you ever think you were above being a geek? You had no friends and enjoyed crossword puzzles from the age of ten, for the love of G-d. I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere, and for me it was sci-fi. Oh no, I was better than those geeks.
Now that I’m older and less likely to get shoved into a band locker, I’m really reveling in some good sci-fi – not the stuff with wizards and dragons, that is still too geeky for me – but more the stuff that I think is called “spec fic” among the kids these days. Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite writers in this genre, though I got into her via her more realist novels – specifically Cat’s Eye and The Robber Bride. I really hated A Handmaid’s Tale when I read it back in high school – perhaps I should give it another pass now that I’m better in touch with my inner geek. (And yet, I loved loved loved 1984 when I read it for the first time at age 13. I think it’s because it had sex in it.)
Oryx and Crake deals with a human-created apocalypse in which the surviving species aren’t man… but are rather man-made. The protagonist, the Last Man on Earth, is Snowman – best friend of Crake, the scientist in charge of making the man-like species “The Crakers” who are shaping up to fill the human niche in a post-human world. The story is told Lost style, one linear story punctuated by flashbacks – which are in this case, thankfully, also linear. So, while you’re reading the story of Snowman’s struggle to survive (which if I’m calculating correctly, takes place over one week), you’re also reading the story of Snowman’s life from ages nine onwards. It flows together seamlessly, which is a testament to Atwood’s writing abilities.
There’s not too much I can say about the book that wouldn’t be a spoiler. The book is very obviously designed as the first chapter in a larger story, and I’m excited to read The Year of the Flood soon to see where this is going. Atwood very deftly tackles a lot of issues surrounding synthetic biology in a way that to me, as a layperson, makes the whole thing feel chillingly plausible. There’s a sign of some true postapocalyptic terror right there – imagining a scenario in which humans really do breed pigoons and wolvogs. While the names of the institutions involved are slightly hilarious (AnooYoo, for one), they aren’t at all hard to imagine springing up out of the ashes of current pharmaceutical research companies. We’re already shooting botulism into our faces and growing ears on mice, why not have pigs raised for organ harvesting and potential full-on skin replacements?
(Really terrifying though: the ChickieNobs. Gives me the howling fantods just thinking about it.)
The only reason that I gave this book four out of five stars on Goodreads is that it was indeed possible to put it down for periods of time. That was the only way I could see it as being in any way deficient – normally it doesn’t take me over a week to read a book of this length, but for some reason, it just dragged out a bit. We’ll see how The Year of the Flood shapes up after I finish my to-read pile, which is itself entirely spec-fic. I sense that 2010 is going to be The Year of The Geek.