Oryx and Crake

Book Cover

Before I begin this post, I feel as if I need to come clean about something: I felt a little letdown with this novel. I felt that Atwood used the broken narrative structure and the odd prose to gussy up what was a fairly cliche scifi/dystopic trope. And don’t get me wrong, I like stories that utilize the human extinction trope, but I just didn’t think Atwood added anything new to the conversation.

Regardless, I did find the general outlook of humanity presented in the novel interesting. If Crake is to be believed, and I see no reason why he’s not, humanity was heading for starvation, and eventually extinction, despite Crake’s manipulation. Presumably, global warming had pushed humanity into living in domes for protection from erratic weather, and in the pleeblands it appeared as if disease and viruses ran rampant. Catastrophic conditions notwithstanding, humanity seemed more interested in self-indulgence and status than in attempting to improve life on Earth. The materialistic attitude presented in the novel reminded me of Wordsworth poem “The World is too Much with Us.”

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Snowman’s selflessness in leading the Crakers out of the dome and helping to watch over them stood out as a lone act of philanthropy, although, I do think an argument could be made on whether or not Crake was perhaps the most selfless person in the book. Since Crake felt so firmly that the Crakers should not evolve into spiritual beings it would make sense that he would never want them to meet him personally. It would also make sense that he knew when the Crakers were expelled from their Edenic dome that they would eventually deify Oryx, as well. Consequently, Snowman would have been Crake’s best hope for leading the Crakers out into the world.

Either that, or Crake’s cowardice prevented him from living out his magnum opus. I’m not sure, because Crake was so emotionless that I never had a firm grip on who he was a character. Was he a savior of humanity? Other than their placidness, the Crakers were far better equipped for long-term survival than normal humans. Or was he a genocidal sociopath? I was waiting for some kind of emotion from Crake when Snowman revealed that he knew the actual plan of Blyss Pluss, but Crake seemed rather indifferent. I wasn’t expect a Bond-Villian type monologue, but something woulda been nice.


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12 thoughts on “Oryx and Crake

  1. You said: “Was he a savior of humanity?”

    The Crakers aren’t human–it wasn’t Crake’s intention to save humanity, rather to wipe out humanity and leave the planet to the “superior” creatures he created. In essence, humanity had become the monsters; it was humanity’s turn to go extinct–Crake’s fascination with extinct species from the beginning, his concealed fascination in the murder of his father and Jimmy’s mother… Crake was never working for “the man” but for MaddAddam. Jimmy’s mother and Oryx both left him with the words “don’t let me down”–humanity had to be eliminated, and Jimmy was the one left to do the work Oryx and Crake started. He was the Moses figure to lead the Crakers out, and also a savior figure in the sense that the only way humanity could be redeemed was by their destruction. In the end Jimmy himself is barely human. It’s the biblical story in reverse in a way. “Madam I’m Adam”, “the chaos”, Paradice, Oryx and Crake as Adam and Eve to a whole new race, Jimmy as a sort of anti-Jesus. Religion notwithstanding, as Crake would have seen it, all the events were biologically inevitable.

    The lack of emotion on the part of Crake, Jimmy, Oryx, indeed everyone in the book may have felt distancing to the reader, but only showed what humanity had become. Why should humanity, as represented in that book, be saved? I didn’t see Crake’s reaction or non-reaction as indifference on his part–Crake saw everything as a game; to him, Jimmy knowing was just a step in the plan, a chess move, if you will, that he had anticipated. He needed to react just as he did in order to elicit from Jimmy the reaction he needed to win. The ones who sacrificed themselves in the book were Oryx and Crake, not Jimmy.

  2. Before reading Anniina’s comment, I’d like to say that in Mark’s revision the only thing that I could totally disagree with is that Crake did what he did for he wanted to save mankind. That is exactly what he did not do.
    The Crakers are so far away from being human – and not only b/c of the adding of special genes like that of purring, mammal-like mating…rather, it’s the lack of art and special thinking, idolizing.
    Perhaps M.A. wished to say that those traits that Crake deliberately took out of the gene pool of the Crakers make people human beings.
    For me, Crake lacked all sympathy and emotion towards the human being as a species. He had all those magnificent measure at hand (in the Watson Crick University) and later on, at his job, and all he did was playing with genes.
    He found his own pleasure and had not a single thought about keeping the race.
    I think it was well documented on the course of the story that he was emotionally wounded, so perhaps that is the reason for his behaviour.
    Crake’s approach is perhaps a symbol of those who right now have the skills, abilities, facilities do really do something but instead they worship technology, leading us, the planet to a false future.

    I feel that what M.A. describes here is only a few decades away, if, we do not change our attitude, blah, blah. I really do.

    As for Snowman, he was perhaps the last of his kind – he would have been a genius is he attended a ‘normal’ high school and his sympathy towards mankind might have saved life on Earth. Might, I said, for I don’t know.
    More often than not, the bleeding hearts are tossed over.
    He was an unfortunate remainder of a past that has long gone.

    I guess the potential of Earth had gone wrong well BEFORE the novel starts. And that comes out clear for me.

    I found Oryx’s story a bit much – this was the only part that was a bit loooong to read: her experiences in the room with matresses, during moive making. Somehow it did not really fit the general story. But her dialogues (either the real or the imaginary) ones did add a new view of her character, which was, not a really complicated one, my opinion.
    Now I’m off to read what Anniina had said.

  3. Tank

    I finished this book weeks ago, so it isn’t fresh in my memory. I tend to agree with Mark that the plot was fairly pedestrian, nothing special, but still entertaining. There are many interpretations and themes you could dwell upon in regards to the dystopian setting. Questions about what makes us human and if religion is instinctual, learned, or an inevitable result of higher intelligence. You also must wonder how the encounter at the end of the book played out. If it turned into a blood bath, could you not imagine Snowman reflecting as he dies that perhaps Crake was right all along? Or if they were to cooperate, that there is and always was hope for humanity? But much like Crake, we the reader will never know.

    The prose initially bothered me with its tense changes, but soon I fell into the groove and it was fine.

    Unlike SzélsÅ‘Fa, I found Oryx’s history to be the best part of the book. In a novel that consisted of fairly thin characters and an outrageous plot, Jimmy’s masochism via curiosity was the only part of this novel that really rang true to me.

    That said, I did genuinely enjoy this novel.

  4. A-

    I agree with you up to a point about Crake, although I just don’t see him as solely concerned about winning. The thing about seeing everything as a game is that you want to win, and nothing’s better in winning than actually seeing the victory. If Crake had lived somehow then I’d say absolutely, he treated everything and everyone like pawns. But he didn’t, and in the end he didn’t really sacrifice anything. He didn’t even have the courage to kill himself, so he forced Jimmy to do it for him. I just didn’t think that his role was defined enough for me to get a firm hold on him.

    And I didn’t feel that the whole book was emotionless and distant. I thought Jimmy’s promiscuity was a fairly typical, yet foolish, way to connect with others during times of strive. And Oryx’s aloofness was far too stilted to have been real.

    A & SzélsőFa-

    Both of you seemed to agree that the Crakers weren’t human–I’m not sure on that point. The Crakers, while much more primal and base than Jimmy, Crake, et al, were in some ways much more communally and spiritually pure than the rest of “natural” humanity. I happen to think that the Crakers were, and excuse the pun, more human than human. What makes a being “human” or not “human”?

    Tank- The origins of a religion in the book almost scared me. We see that as time goes by the beginnings of religion get blurred and mixed up, and before you know it the good idea has become a dogma. Scientology hits me like that. Right now we see it as pure lunacy, but when you look at the whole Xenu story objectively it’s not that much more outlandish than stuff in the Bible. As time goes on people will forget the lunacy of L. Ron just as in time the Crakers will forget that Jimmy even existed and simply remember the religion he helped spawn.

  5. Cool, lots to think about. Are we down to the 4 of us in the book club? What are we reading next? Different genre? Different time period? LMK, I’m dying for a new book.

  6. Flood

    There are still 5 of us. Sorry for being a slug.

    I finished this book a bit before Harry Potter came out so excuse me if my memory is a bit bad. I enjoyed the book and because of that I plan on reading more by MA. It was not the best read and there are several things about the background of the story that bothered me. Despite that I liked it.

    So my first controversal point? I think the main characters of the were either psychopaths or sociopaths. I find very little redeeming about any of the. Snowman might be the least mental of the batch. He reminds me of whiner rock, alot of bitching and moaning and not alot getting done. To me he was worthless. And who can you bag your best friend’s (and I do use that term loosely) mate/girlfriend/woman. That breaks the bond between men. Crake needed a long stay in that white jacket with extra long sleeves. I think he is a genious, but his grasp and view of reality just isn’t right. I’ll give you that conditions at the time weren’t great, but …. Oryx, she has issues. And she becomes part of the psycho master plan.

    I don’t see Snowman’s acts as philanthropic. When you don’t have much else to do are you really kind?

    The Crakers, human, sure close enough, although the question that popped up from NLMG comes up here. Do They have a soul? There is a point where these two books might be compared/contrasted.

    The thing that I really like also drove me crazy. I wanted more information. I like that MA did not give you everything. You want to understand what has happened, why, how, so much that you are drawn into the story.

    Overall I enjoyed the book and am glad that I read it.

  7. Flood

    Next book. “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute.
    Or “Catch 22” by Joseph Heller
    “Lucifer’s Hammer” by Larry Niven

    Some thing totally different “Breathing Lessons” by Anne Tyler

    Or Whatever.

  8. Flood

    Not long ago I read “A Clockwork Orange.” This addition included the final chapter that was cut from the American publication and film adaptation of the book. It was cut because it showed a change in the main character and did not fit the opinion at the time (and often now) that everything is going to hell and that there is no hope. This decision bothered Burgess, but at the time he had little choice. He felt that without the change the book was incomplete.

    I think that this is my biggest disappointment with C&O and to a lesser extent NLMG. No one ever changes or perhaps a better yet grows up. I can excuse this a bit in NLMG because KI brrings us to that point, but crushes his characters and our hopes delibrately. But in C&O the characters are stagnant. And without the change what is the point in the psychological novel?

  9. Flood

    Oh and it’s O&C. Sorry sometimes I am a dumbass. (Well, usually)

  10. Yay, glad you didn’t leave us, Flood! I loved the amount of research that had gone into the book. Dug the quotations and “altered quotations” from other works of literature. Loved Jimmy’s “word lists.”

    Flood – Weird, I’ve read all first 3 in your first suggestion post. Haven’t read Anne Tyler. Isn’t that an Oprah selection? I think I could almost hear Mark screaming all the way from Tejas 😛

  11. Flood

    Anniina, Did you like Lucifer’s Hammer? Is it worth reading?

    I read “ON the Beach,” but it was such an amazing book. I need to read “Catch-22” so it is something I am going to do anyway.

    The Anne Tyler book won the Pulitzer in 88. She also wrote “The Accidental Tourist,” which I’m working on now. But they are totally different from what we have read so far. I also like to give Mark a hard time. I wonder if we could get publishers to put his logo on the books we read?

  12. “Lucifer’s Hammer” wasn’t my cup of tea, but it was well written. If you’re a Niven fan, you should definitely read it. “On the Beach” is definitely an amazing book. “Catch-22” I hated. I’m probably going to be flamed for that some day, but I stand firm. Hated it.

    Anne Tyler’s book sounds like a book to consider. I’d also suggest Louise Erdrich’s “Tracks” and “Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

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