Both the title and the short summary on the back cover of this book didn’t give me any particular idea of the plot, theme, genre etc. And even when I was half way through, the story didn’t just easily give away the startling and catastrophic ending (even though foreshadowings were planted in almost every line). The world that Margaret Atwood created, even with its acerbic similarity with our world, contains such disasters and awry master-plans that made “nothing ever look the same again”.
Reading “Oryx and Crake” reminds me of P. D. James’ “Children of Men”. Both writers explored with the possible extinction of humankind and our reaction to the fictional nearing ending of our species. I found both plots provoking and daring (but if you’re more of a action, fast-moving fan, try “Children of Men” instead).
Margaret Atwood’s novel combines the best of romance, desire, obsession, master-mind, cruelty, corruption into one scary tale of human self-destruction. “Men can imagine their own deaths, they can see them coming, and the mere thought of impending death acts like an aphrodisiac. A dog or a rabbit doesn’t behave like that.” She draws pictures of different worlds: the world we know, the world we don’t want to know about, and the world we not yet come to acknowledge – the world that does not exist but could very possibly arrive. The three main characters, Oryx, Crake and Snowman, have three almost totally different perspectives based on their background and ability, but they all witness the downfall of life as we know it, and have different reactions to the crumbling era of mankind. They are symbols of three different types of people nowadays, watching the world change and choosing their own way of dealing with it.
Snowman, or Jimmy, is the heart of the story. The world revolves around him; the changes besiege him and cause confusion, or make him give up with his fate. In him a boy who lost his mom grieves forever, clutching the pain every time he sees her image. In him, an under-achieving student settles for a mediocre university, job and love life and kills time into his adulthood, while trying to keep up with his (only) friend’s genius mind and plans. He seems like an underdog most of the time: too uncool for the women he loves, too unintelligent for the only friend he has. His innocent dream of a perfect world is laughed at; his concept of world and good endings, like how he plans to kill Crake so he and Oryx could be together for love, no matter how admirable, becomes too naïve in the middle of the dying world.
“That everything has a price.”
“Not everything. That can’t be true. You can’t buy time. You can’t buy…” He wanted to say love, but hesitated. It was too soppy.
“You can’t buy it, but it has a price,” said Oryx. “Everything has a price.”
“Not me,” said Jimmy, trying to joke. “I don’t have a price.”
Wrong, as usual.“
Yet in the end, he is the only man standing. Or at least the only man standing that knows what’s going on.
Meanwhile, Crake, an alias for the name that even Snowman forgot, could be categorized into the mastermind pragmatic villain. He’s like the nerdy kid in your science class who can understand ideas “sort of like, I can take you out of this world, but the route to it is just a few nanoseconds long, and the way of measuring those nanoseconds doesn’t exist in our space-frame.” His down-to-earth and straightforward logical thinking make him one of the most successful people in the world, comparable to Bill Gates in our world perhaps. Started out as a boy with the brains to take over the world, who beat Jimmy in almost all of their games, Crake soon turns the world into his own game. Changing the history, the future, the present all became steps in his own vision of a game with his own rules. It takes that kind of intelligence to “[eliminate] one generation, of anything. Beetles, tress, microbes, scientists, speakers of French, whatever.” Crake saw it in his head before anyone else had the time to realize, “break the link in time between one generation and the next, and it’s game over forever.” Even sex became a game, “like an athletic demonstration, a free-spirited romp.” I was mesmerized the entire time by his extraordinary vision on the world, of how he decoded both human physical and psychological mysteries, therefore manipulated the entire species into his own “Crakers” : “at first, we had to alter ordinary human embryos, which we got from – never mind where we got them. They’re reproducing themselves, now.” But most importantly, he understood the core of humans desire to be immortal: “Human beings hope they can stick their souls into someone else, some new version of themselves, and live on forever.” Yet, “immortality is a concept. If you take ‘mortality’ as being, not death, but the foreknowledge of it and the fear of it, then ‘immortality’ is the absence of such fear. Babies are immortal. Edit out the fear, and you’ll be…” That is the ultimate rule of Crake’s gigantic game. Sadly, none of his ‘players’ really grasped that concept (except Jimmy probably at the end), not the Crakers, not Oryx, nor his customers, patients, Crake’s uncle, his scientists and so on. That’s why none of them managed to survive out of the game. After all, even Crake who always takes the lead move couldn’t make it out alive.
That leaves us with Oryx, the only feminine character in Atwood’s novel (which is a big difference compared to her other feminist novels, Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace or The Handmaid’s Tale). At the beginning it seems like “Oryx and Crake” is an analogy to “Eve and Adam”, especially when all the inhabitants of the world worship that couple as though they were the creator of the creatures. Then Oryx’s story unfolds, the corruption and dirty sex trafficking industry is revealed, and she becomes no Goddess at all, but just a women, sold and abused since childhood, and also the target of Crake’s love. Though not emphasized greatly, Oryx must have been a startling beauty, a hypnotizing figure of love and attraction. What was truly startling about her, though, was her maturity and calmness towards the chaotic and unfair world. She never blamed her parents for selling her, or her pimp that made her do all the dirty tricks, or the old man who kidnapped and immured her in his basement, nor Crake. She wants to believe in noble values, “every child should have love, every person should have it“, but unlike Snowman who clings onto the false hope that it would prevail, she understands deeply that, “love was undependable, it came and then it went, so it was good to have a money value.” She denies nothing of her gloomy past (“but Jimmy, you should know. All sex is real“) and lives on her life by completing the duties that are expected of her: a teacher (even mother), lover, wife. She neither lies to Snowman nor wants to betray Crake; she is a figure of astonishing patience and stillness.
And together, these three contributed in their own way more or less, direct or indirect, unintentionally or intendedly to the destruction of human kind. Is it heroic to save the ones closest to you? Or kill the ones closest to you in revenge for the world? Is it noble to create a ‘better’ generation to save people from suffering our current world? It comes down ultimately to the questions of ethical and moral concepts, questions of the philosophy and psychology of human thinking. Who would you rather be? The cause of change for the entire world? The by-stander who claims he has no power to help the situation? The loyal follower who supports the change while believing she is doing the best for everyone?
“As a species we’re doomed by hope, then?”
“You could call it hope. That, or desperation”
“But we’re doomed without hope, as well,” said Jimmy.
“Only as individuals,” said Crake cheerfully.
“Jimmy, grow up.”
Crake wasn’t the first person who’d ever said that to Jimmy.”