“Oryx and Crake” is a beautifully written book set in a dystopian future where genetic engineering has gone wrong.
The book follows two plot lines. “Snowman” finds himself alone; slowly starving to death and doubting his sanity in a world that has been devastated by plague. His days are spent scavenging and hiding from mutant pigs (“pigoons”) and nasty wolf / dog hybrids (“wolvogs”). There are also the “Crakers”, gentle, genetically engineered humans that seem to be designed for this post-apocalyptic world. The Crakers see Snowman as a sort of mentor. We find more about Snowman’s relationship with the Crakers as the book progresses.
The second plot strand is set in the past. This is before the plague when Snowman was known as Jimmy. Corporations run fabulously appointed enclaves (called Compounds). Jimmy grows up in one of these compounds, alienated from his scientist father and coming to terms with being abandoned by his mother. The world outside the compounds, the “pleeblands”, is rife with poverty, crime and those people who are not lucky enough to work for one of the compounds.
Jimmy meets Crake, a strange and brilliant teenager while in high school. We follow their lives through to adulthood. The world, as described by Ms. Atwood, is teetering on the brink. Almost everything is available for sale, and the Compounds follow some ethically and morally questionable business practices. We come to understand how Snowman’s world came about. We also meet Oryx, a woman who both Jimmy and Crake fall for and who has a compelling and tragic story herself.
“Oryx and Crake” is the first installment of the “MaddAdam” trilogy. While I enjoyed reading the book and marvelled at Ms. Atwood’s writing; it was clear that Ms. Atwood does not approve of genetic engineering and does not hold the capitalistic motive in high regard. This results in a slightly laboured and cynical book. I might change my mind after reading the other two books in the MaddAdam trilogy. But for now, “Oryx and Crake” gets an average rating.