Oryx & Crake (MaddAddam #1)

End DateMarch 31st

AuthorMargaret Atwood

Published2003

GenreScience Fiction / Dystopian Novel

Pages 389 (paperback)

Selected ByLady Esbe

Average ReviewScoring Liked Book

“Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved.  In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey – with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake – through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride.”

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Gigglemug Reviews

Lady Esbe:  Scoring Liked Book

This is not the first book I’ve read by Ms. Atwood and I can say it is not my favorite, unfortunately.  I can start by saying it is well written and vivid and draws on the emotion as she always does.  However, this time, I felt no empathy for any character.  In fact, each and every character raked on my nerves but for the animals.

Human society, they claimed, was some sort of monster, it’s main by-products being corpses and rubble.

It is unfortunate that each of the novels that I’ve read that reflective of a despotic future is so bleak, thus despotic. We find ourselves in a future where the scientific community has isolated itself from the rest of the world, letting small “corporations” sprout innovations that are quite frankly, tragic. These communities or compounds were located next to urban centers that either dilapidated, overcrowded and disease infested. At least, that is the propaganda provided by the compounds. In one way, some of the innovations are helpful to humanity. In theory, there should be no shortage of food or health cures due to these innovations. The creation of pigoons marked the ability to create food and harvesting of “human” organs and chickinobs for food itself. The issue for me is, the extreme “creations”. While in theory, they could be helpful and welcome, something just isn’t right. Yet, the moral of the story, at least for me, is that some megalomaniac will go one to too many steps too far.

All he said was that some people needed to change, and to change they needed to be elsewhere.  He said a person in your life and then not in it anymore.  He said Jimmy should read up on the Stoics.  That last part was mildly aggravating:  Crake could be a little too instructive sometimes, and a little too free with the shoulds.  But Jimmy appreciated his calmness and lack of nosiness.

Glenn a/k/a Crake is one such genius. From his introduction into the novel in his teen years, one could say he is too sociopathic for me at that point.  Undoubtedly, he is bright.  However, his whole demeanor was so superior that I’d want to knock him down a peg or two.  He’s cruel, mentally abusive to all those around him, including Jimmy a/k/a Snowman.  While his intellect may have been superior, he often liked to watch people squirm.  It was almost like he was that serial killer in the making, pulling wings off of moths for the sport before moving on to the family pet and then people.  I’m not altogether convinced that he became infatuated with Oryx but to take something away from Jimmy/Snowman.  He was only interested in games that made him superior to Jimmy and if he could make Jimmy squirm, so much the better.  So, it wasn’t a shocker to me that later in their lives that he took the one thing that Jimmy/Snowman truly held dear. . . Oryx.

I’m not saying that Jimmy/Snowman is innocent in all of this.  He’s just as damaged as Glenn/Crake.  His troubles stem directly from his turbulent childhood.  His father being a cog in the machine and his mother being the post-partum crazy woman.  While she may have formed some type of objection to what was going on in the very field she was excelling at prior to Jimmy/Snowman’s birth, her treatment of Jimmy and husband was really rather unnecessary.  Is it better to argue and wallow in your misery or is it better to shove on sooner rather than later.  Eventually she rectifies this and leaves.  However, the damage is already done.

Jimmy/Snowman seems like the normal awkward kid who wants attention any way he can get it.  Unfortunately, his need for attention is partially a move for acceptance and mostly narcissism.  He’s the class clown.  No harm in that right?  However, when he moves on to a school where the kids are a bit brighter, he doesn’t strive in his studies only redoubles his efforts to be clever in a worldly sense.  I don’t believe he’s as dumb as he makes himself out to be.  I do believe that he has an aversion to excelling academically so that he doesn’t follow in the footsteps of his mother or father and being in a career that would be rather cookie cutter in their little communities.   Jimmy/Snowman excels at being melodramatic and manipulative.  Crake seems to know this and accept this character flaw, even as he exploits it.

They turned their backs on him, they’d wander away.  He is Crake’s prophet now, whether he likes it or not; and the prophet of Oryx as well.  That, or nothing.  He needs to be listed to, he needs to be heard.  He need at least the illusion of being understood.

In the aftermath of the well-orchestrated plague, Jimmy/Snowman is tasked with taking care of the genetically modified “children” of Crake.  Again, Jimmy/Snowman is the great manipulator and these Crakers are basically blank slates who know nothing about nothing, in an effort to better the species per Crake.  However, what was disturbing at the end of the novel is that some of the things he tried to “breed” out of people managed to show up regardless. While they did not understand creating an idol, it still happened.  So that begs the question, no matter what science does, can it manipulate people into not having a belief or desire for higher beings/deities in their lives.  Some of the attributes were desirable.  Hey, wouldn’t we all like to repel mosquitos naturally?  I’d find that quite helpful in the summer.

Another issue I had with Jimmy/Snowman is his obsessive nature.  Oryx clearly had a rough life, since she did end up in kiddie porn for Pete’s sake.  Why did he need a blow by blow of what happened after she left that little rice paddy village at a young age?  Why did he need to know what exactly was done to her and what she did to others?  He’s truly morbid and can’t take a clue or just wants what he wants no matter the discomfort he causes anyone else.  Whether she’s come to terms with it (which it seems she has in her demeanor), or has chosen to blot it out of her memory, why does Jimmy/Snowman feel it is his right and necessity to learn the gory details?  Glutton for punishment or obsessive ass?  You be the judge.

I gave this a three primarily because the subject just made me uneasy.  Really 374 pages should have been a quick read for me.  However, it took me three weeks.  It was initially difficult for me to get into.  Then, I would put it down for days at a time.  Fortunately, this week, there were some sparks that peaked my interest and drove me to finish in three days.  I didn’t think I wanted to continue the series.  However, now that I know Jimmy/Snowman is not to make an appearance (at least by the description), I think I can move on in the series.  I hope that the new characters are more sympathetic for me, especially when the landscape of the book is just so bleak.

Esbe’s Favorite Character(s):  The racoon/skunk hybrid (rakunk), Killer.  She was lovable and provided comfort to a poorly adjusted kid.  Hell, I wanted one!

Lady Esbe read the Anchor paperback version of this selection.

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Elle Tea:  Scoring Great Book

I read Oryx & Crake back in 2004 / 2005, before I knew it was the beginning of a trilogy.  At that time, I remember it being what we here at Gigglemug would now call a “three-cup book,” mainly due to the ending, which seemed abrupt and full of holes.  I expected better from Atwood, who’d already published two of my favorite books: The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin, and I should’ve really known better than to immediately think such a masterful author would leave a creation of hers dangling in the wind in such a fashion.  Thus I was very pleased when Lady Esbe gave me the chance to re-read this novel armed ahead of time with the knowledge that this is just the beginning (and only a piece) of a much larger tale.

Women, and what went on under their collars.  Hotness and coldness, coming and going in the strange musky flowery variable-weather country inside their clothes – mysterious, important, uncontrollable.  But men’s body temperatures were never dealt with; they were never even mentioned, not when he was little, except when his dad said, “Chill out.”  Why weren’t they?  Why nothing about the hot collars of men?  Those smooth, sharp-edged collars with their dark, sulphurous, bristling undersides.  He could have used a few theories on that.

The current climate (literally and figuratively) begs for the book to be read again, now, when it suddenly seems so much more relevant, so much more important for us as the self-aware species which has set itself up as the Grand High Poobah of this planet, to acknowledge that the future will be less than rosy for us and those other unfortunate creatures stuck here with us if we don’t get our shit together, if we don’t review our priorities, if we don’t finally, after 200,000 years of evolution, learn to look past the tips of our own noses (or, more accurately, the edges of our own pocketbooks).  Because the entire book can be summed up with one huge statement: just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

Steaks didn’t have heads.  The heads made a difference: he thought he could see the animals looking at him reproachfully out of their burning eyes. 

First things first, let’s discuss the primary characters, as well as a couple of the meaningful secondaries: Glenn / Crake, Jimmy / Snowman, Oryx, and Jimmy’s parents.  Oryx is the easiest for me, because she’s practically a nonentity in this novel; she’s a troubled kid with a whole truckload of trauma on her back, but she seems content to live in the moment, if her apparent apathy can really be considered contentment… or living.  The mystery surrounding her for me was relegated purely to whether her interest in Jimmy was sincere or simply acquiescence to a directive given by Glenn, whom she – like Jimmy – seems to idolize.  Jimmy’s father serves as our primary glimpse into the operations of the scientific and corporate machine; his focus is on his position, on being The One Who Makes the Biggest Breakthrough, as well as on his status within the various companies that make up the backbone of the elite population permitted to reside behind the relatively safe walls of this terrifying brave new world.  He’s driven and intelligent, make no mistake about that, but it is this very drive, this very short-sighted single-mindedness, of him and the elite class to which he belongs that ushers in and makes possible all of the chaos and misery that unfolds within these pages.

“Hang on to the words,” he tells himself.  The odd words, the old words, the rare ones.  Valance.  Norn.  Serendipity.  Pibroch.  Lubricious.  When they’re gone out of his head, these words, they’ll be gone, everywhere, forever.  As if they had never been. 

I recall not liking Jimmy’s mother a decade ago and that I thought her selfish and flighty at that time… but I find myself now disagreeing with that assessment.  Granted, she’s not going to win any Mom of the Year awards any time soon… but as I told the Ladies during our discussions: I get it.  She was part of the elite – she was, in fact, a card-carrying, fully participating, hotshot member of the elite… but I now see her sudden change from confident brainiac to sullen, withdrawn manic depressive as an acknowledgment of the part her work played in a scheme which she no longer agreed with or supported combined with awareness of the fact that the only other adult to whom she can turn with her worries is a husband who would sooner report her and see her thrown to the wolves than entertain for one moment that she might have a point.  I don’t personally agree with her decisions when it comes to how she severs her relationship with her child, but I do understand it (well, all except the part where she releases a domesticated animal into the wild): she couldn’t take Jimmy with her, not where she was going and not with what she clearly planned to do, nor could she risk endangering her young child’s safe position behind the walls by telling him anything about plans that he wouldn’t understand and which he would, no doubt, blab to his friends, his father, or the authorities.

“Homo sapiens doesn’t seem able to cut himself off at the supply end.  He’s one of the few species that doesn’t limit reproduction in the face of dwindling resources.  In other words – and up to a point, of course – the less we eat, the more we fuck.”  “How do you account for that?” said Jimmy.  “Imagination,” said Crake.  [Crake, continuing:] “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.  Take birds – in a lean season, they cut down on the eggs, or they won’t mate at all.  They put their energy into staying alive themselves until times get better.  But human beings hope they can stick their souls into someone else, some new version of themselves, and live on forever.”

It’s impossible to talk about Snowman without talking about Crake: the one wouldn’t exist without the other.  As a child and teenager, Jimmy was clever but not necessarily intelligent; he lacked his father’s focus and ambition, nor did he possess his mother’s foresight or brainpower.  After years of being a spectator in his own family unit, Jimmy learned that any kind of attention was better than no attention at all, and he quickly decided that he would be an entertainer, a storyteller, and, when called for, a troublemaker.  Snowman – or Jimmy the Adult – is not much different from Jimmy the Child; he’s inherited a giant mound of crap, that’s true, and he was given no say in the matter one way or the other… but instead of rising from the ashes of civilization and finding his own voice, his own strength, he chooses to roll around in the ashes of what was, to play the part which Crake wrote for him to the tee and let things evolve (or devolve) around him as they will.

Every moment he’s lived in the past few months was dreamed first by Crake.  No wonder Crake screamed so much.

Glenn, on the other hand, was always a smooth-talker, a charmer, a manipulator, and a strategist.  After quickly proving to be elite even among the elite, he could have chosen to ally himself with almost anyone… but rather than seeking those like himself – visionaries, idealists, and thinkers – he opts for someone lonelier, someone weaker and more malleable, someone floundering: Jimmy.  Glenn, who personally prefers the sobriquet “Crake,” initially does make sense, which is the scariest thing of all: he’s disgusted by the very class to which he belongs, he is distrustful of the lengths the corporations will go, he expresses resentment towards the very idea of Them and Us, and he makes it clear that he wants to make a lasting change, that he intends, somehow, to do something with his talent, skill, and intellect that will right all the wrongs he sees around him.  And these are all admirable things… right up to the point where you realize that Crake is less a socialist than a sociopath: all of his fine assessments are made from a clinical standpoint rather than one of empathy or sympathy, the great scheme he concocts, while it clearly got the job done, would never have been possible had he possessed anything even remotely resembling a conscience, and even his oldest friend and the woman who seems smitten with him are nothing more than tools, things he can use, pawns he can sacrifice in an effort to win a game for which he alone knows the rules and which no one else even knows they’re playing until it’s far, far too late to do anything about it.

“But after the Second World War in the twentieth century, the Allies invited a lot of German rocket scientists to come and work with them, and I can’t recall anyone saying no.  When your main game’s over, you can always move your chessboard elsewhere.”

But, as I said in the beginning, the primary message I take away from this bleak tale is that just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be.  We are a clever species.  We are innovative.  We are self-aware.  And we look to the future in a way most other animals simply cannot.  These are lucky twists of evolution – and how lucky are we to have been given such powers of thought, of feeling, of foresight?  How lucky are we to even have this gem of a planet, floating as it is in that great hostile vacuum of space?  And when we want to, when we put our minds to it, when we do manage to collectively get our shit together, we do some amazing stuff, don’t we?  Vaccines and antibiotics.  Electricity and the internet.  Irrigation and indoor plumbing.  Air and road and space travel.  We did those things.  But then we always go too far, reach for too much.  We succumb to the most primitive drive of all: the call of the Alpha, the need to dominate.  We lucky, creative, clever creatures who can do things that our own kind would have once declared impossible, that a few generations ago our forebears would have considered sorcery or magic or possible only if one were a deity (or devil, as the case may be), turn on one another and everything around us in the name of greed and power.  We can create nuclear bombs, so we do… and then we use them on each other in the name of winning without even knowing whether there will be any land left worth having or any humans left to claim it once the dust settles.  We can create dioxin, so we do; we can harness germs and use them as weapons to wipe out rivals, so we do; we can torture and kill animals in the name of vanity to prove our status, so we do.  All to satisfy our need to dominate someone else, to have what they have, be it land or money or resources, or just to know that someone else is afraid and it’s us they’re afraid of – for many, that rush alone is enough.

We can.  So we do.  But we know we shouldn’t.  We knew it then.  We know it now.

But we can.  So we do.

I highly recommend this book to you.  Wherever you are.  Whatever it is you do for a living.  Whatever language you speak, whatever religion you follow (or don’t), whatever your education, this book is for you.

Elle’s Favorite Character(s):  The only individual who genuinely cared for someone else and wanted nothing more than to be cared for in return: Killer.

Elle Tea read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.

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BillMo:  Scoring Liked Book

Chaos always smells bad.

This was a pretty good book.  It’s definitely not my go-to style for something to just pick up and read on my own – I prefer light-hearted books or ones which are so outside the realm of possibility that the things happening in them can be set aside after the tales are done.  I’d have to be really craving some depth and in a particularly solemn mood, I think, to really want to read this.

So many crucial events take place behind people’s backs, when they aren’t in a position to watch: birth and death, for instance.

The storyline definitely sounds like something that could happen in the future: an apocalypse due to a person (or people) who think they know what’s best.  I’m still not sure if their goal was to save the world or just become god(s) or legend(s) after death – either way, I’m still pondering the whole idea and what it means in relation to current events and how the future of our species might look if we keep heading down our current path.

It’s a luscious, unreal green, like a gumdrop, and covered with tiny bright hairs.  Watching it, he feels a sudden, inexplicable surge of tenderness and joy.  Unique, he thinks.  There will never be another caterpillar just like this one.  There will never be another such moment of time, another such conjunction.

I didn’t get particularly attached to any of the human characters.  Snowman/Jimmy seemed too immature for pretty much the whole book.  Oryx was too composed, though I did like that her terrible past didn’t ruin her, she didn’t dwell on it, and she seemed to want to look forward to the future with hope rather than to the past with dread.  While I’d like to hope to be as strong as she was if put in the same situation, I think I wouldn’t have been able to help harboring some anger and resentment about the world in general… but then again, I don’t understand what she went through, really, since it’s never happened to me.  Maybe because of her past, she was able to look at the craziness around her during the story as something better than the alternative (death).  I don’t know… I just didn’t connect with her.  Crake was a pompous know-it-all, and he really seemed like a big jerk.  I wondered if he was just so smart that no one was on his level, so he did whatever he wanted.  Even now, after finishing it, I’m not 100% sure what his end-game was; I could look at it different ways, but neither reason I keep coming up with seems like a really good one to do what he did.  There are things he clearly didn’t plan for… or if he did, he’s even worse than I think he is right now.

These things sneak up on him for no reason, these flashes of irrational happiness.  It’s probably a vitamin deficiency.

Here’s a big reason why books like this aren’t my usual cup of tea: I now can’t help the depressing thoughts that keep flitting through my head.  I can’t help but wonder now how much longer it is before we’re living like this.  Will we be sectioned off based on our knowledge?  Will there be large sections of the population locked out of safe zones because they’re lacking science skills that can be used by corporations or the government, left to be nothing but disease-ridden lab rats that the brainiac elitists test their bullshit on?  Will some great genius rise up and destroy everyone to either leave a legacy or in an attempt to reboot the world?  I mean, some of the things they were trying to do made sense, to breed out jealousy and lust and stuff… people in that weird new world weren’t wasteful, they weren’t violent, they weren’t trying to harm each other.  But evolution always finds a way, and attributes bred out of one generation can rise back up in another over time.  And in the end, there’s the moral question of it all: should you take away what makes a person an individual, what makes me ME (even if it’s before I know who Me is), if it means that all people can potentially live in peace and harmony?  Is that wrong?  I don’t know.

“Toast,” he says, “is something very, very bad.  It’s so bad I can’t even describe it.  Now it’s your bedtime.  Go away.”

Clearly the book brings up some great and very relevant points.  People took nature into their own hands to get what they wanted, to do what they had to, or to make names for themselves.  And they did them for vain, selfish reasons, too, regardless of the cost.  But in the end, the message is clear: don’t tamper with nature, and take care of the Earth – and it wouldn’t help to be nice to people, either, and stop doing stupid things like committing crimes and destroying the only planet we have… because you never know when some crazy person will rise up and get us all killed.

“As a species we’re doomed by hope, then?”

It was, despite its depth and the creeping feeling of despair it left behind in me, a really good book.  I give it three cups of doom-cloud tea.

For jokes, you need a certain edge, a little malice.

Anyway, killing yourself was something you did for an audience…

You could tell a lot about a person from their fridge magnets, not that he’d thought much about them at the time.

“He dreams it,” said Snowman, “so you won’t have to.”

[Monkeys] used to shit on their enemies from above while perched in trees.  All planes and rockets and bombs are simply elaborations on that primate instinct.

BillMo’s Favorite Character(s):  Killer, the raccoon-skunk hybrid that was a pet.

BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.

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