Thank you to everyone who joined us last week for Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.
Oryx and Crake starts after the end. A biotechnology-related apocalypse has left Snowman alone with the Children of Crake. Our story follows two timelines: Snowman's present-day scavenging journey back to where it all began and his memories from before, starting with his childhood as Jimmy. These two will eventually converge, physically and temporally, and therein lies our climax.
We meet Crake early on. He and Jimmy went to school together, back in a compound where their parents worked in biotechnology. Hmm, ominous. We meet Oryx in scattered snippets of remembered and hallucinated dialogue. Snowman's story presents Crake as the father of (surviving) humanity and Oryx as the mother of animals, with the implication that one or both swept the world clear for the Children of Crake.
The story maintains mystery mostly through the simple device of not telling us things. 300 pages into the book, you still will not have a solid answer of how the apocalypse hit or how Jimmy met Oryx. You will have had lots of time with Oryx and a post-apocalyptic world, just not the full story until the climax.
We also escape explanation because Jimmy is a schmuck. He is shallow and unprincipled, a surprisingly reliable narrator who will explain things and sometimes note, "I should have realized at the time that was really important." Other times, he will give a critical plot point and fail to notice it. He is a post-apocalyptic Forrest Gump. If he were more insightful, our title characters might be less engimatic. As a protagonist, he is problematic because he starts petty and weak-willed and never develops. He is actually smarter and better than he realizes, but he works hard at undercutting and dissipating himself.
The pre-apocalyptic world sounds like the backstory from Idiocracy. Resource exhaustion and climate change are devastating the populace, which seems mostly concerned with sex and drugs, while the finest minds of the generation are genetically engineering better skin care products and chicken nuggets. Our perception of the larger world is colored by Jimmy's inability to separate fact from propaganda, but the picture is of a world that kind of had it coming.
The story is enjoyable and absorbing, but Oryx and Crake is not one of the 100 books you must read before you die. It contrasts interestingly with June's book, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, which is a post-apocalyptic story with biotech elements but an entirely different tone and story arc. For a near future story that extends a different technological trend, I might recommend Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge; for lighter take on the end of humanity, how about The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?
Our book for October is The Nightmare People by Lawrence Watt-Evans. Please join us at 7PM on October 24 at the East Lansing Public Library.