book-reviews

Oryw and Crake

by Margaret Atwood

Rating: ★★★★

A vivid image of a pre- and post-apocalyptic world, presented through the lens of an everyman who is utterly unsuited to his environment. Our main character is raised in the dystopic clutches of a corporate technocracy. In one of the many gated bubbles of productive bioengineering, his father works in a lab, on things of dubious morality, and his mother is tormented by their accommodation with this hellscape. Outside, the proles continue in their crime-infested, drug-addled consumption. You can always check up on them if you want. For kicks, our man tunes in to live executions, child porn or nude news shows. Not that our character finds any of this particularly galling -- why would he? He gets by telling jokes and studying the bits of the humanities which are preserved for the purposes of enabling effective advertising, occasionally interviewed by the security folks about his escapee mother. Perhaps that is all that could be expected, if not for Crake.

The book is named for two characters. One of those characters is a woman, who plays a pawn in a game between men. The other character is Crake, the man who drives the plot. Ostensibly a psychopath, brilliance masking a cold and amoral personality, he in the end is subtly portrayed as someone of intense moral fortitude, fixed on a course of vengeance against what both we and he can see as a profoundly ill society. Like no other could, he rises to the challenge, delivering a pandemic Armageddon to the rotting corpse of civilisation, and, ultimately, sacrifices himself to the cause -- birthing also a kinder, more harmonious replacement for mankind.

It's an interesting and well-told version of the doomsday scenario, wrapping dystopia, apocalypse and nigh-utopia together into one vision. I don't feel like Oryx was strictly necessary to the plot, but I suppose she was a narrative lever for a few things, and nuanced some of the character motivations. The new lifeforms were also interesting, but their spread seemed somewhat unrealistic -- perhaps because the story mostly took place not all that far from a complex. The cliffhanger was also a bit weird -- would our character fulfill Crake's design and protect the new species, or would mankind claw itself back onto the tracks for another bout? But Crake cannot expect this solution to work until humanity is completely erased, so really the test should come without a protector.