Oryx and Crake
|Genre||Speculative fiction, Dystopian, Science Fiction Novel|
|Publisher||McClelland and Stewart (Canada), Bloomsbury (UK), Doubleday (U.S.)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-7710-0868-6 (first edition, hardcover)|
|LC Class||PR9199.3.A8 O79 2003b|
|Followed by||The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam|
Oryx and Crake is a novel by the Canadian author Margaret Atwood. She has described the novel as speculative fiction and "adventure romance" rather than science fiction because it does not deal with "things that have not been invented yet" and goes beyond the realism she associates with the novel form. Oryx and Crake was first published by McClelland and Stewart in 2003. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction that same year, and for the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction.
The novel focuses on a post-apocalyptic character named Snowman, living near a group of primitive human-like creatures whom he calls Crakers. Flashbacks reveal that Snowman was once a boy named Jimmy who grew up in a world dominated by multinational corporations and privileged compounds for the families of their employees. Near starvation, Snowman decides to return to the ruins of a compound named RejoovenEsence even though it is overrun by dangerous genetically engineered hybrid animals to search for supplies. He concocts an explanation for the Crakers, who regard him as a teacher, and begins his foraging expedition.
In Snowman's recollection of past events, Jimmy's family moves to the HelthWyzer compound where his father works as a genographer. Jimmy meets and befriends a brilliant science student named Glenn. Jimmy begins to refer to him as Crake, when he uses that name in a trivia game called Extinctathon. Jimmy and Crake spend much of their leisure time playing games, smoking "skunkweed" and watching underground videos such as live executions, graphic surgery, Noodie News, frog squashing and child pornography. During one of their child pornography viewings, Jimmy is struck by the eyes of a young Asian girl.
After high school, Crake attends the highly respected Watson-Crick Institute where he studies advanced bioengineering, but Jimmy ends up at the loathed Martha Graham Academy, where students study humanities, only valued for their propaganda applications. Jimmy gets a job writing ad copy, while Crake becomes a bioengineer at RejoovEsence. Crake uses his prominent position to create the Crakers, herbivorous humans who only have sexual intercourse during limited polyandrous breeding seasons. His stated goal is to create "floor models" of all the possible options a family could choose in the genetic manipulation of their future children. Crake's team consists of proficient players from the Extinctathon community.
Crake tells Jimmy about another project, a prophylactic agent, and hires Jimmy to help market it. At the Rejoov compound, Jimmy sees a human in the Craker habitat and immediately recognizes her as the girl from the pornographic video. Unaware of Jimmy's obsession with her, Crake explains that her name is Oryx and that he has hired her as a prostitute for himself and a teacher for the Crakers. Oryx notices Jimmy's feelings and makes herself available to him. As their relationship progresses, Jimmy becomes increasingly fearful that Crake has found out about it. He makes a promise to both Oryx and Crake that he will look after the Crakers if anything happens to them.
After Crake's wonder drug is widely distributed, a global pandemic breaks out and begins wiping out the human race. Realizing that this was planned all along, Jimmy grabs a gun to confront Crake. Crake presents himself to Jimmy with his arm around Oryx, saying that they are the only three people immune to the virus. With the words "I'm counting on you," Crake slits Oryx's throat before being shot.
During Snowman's journey to scavenge supplies, he cuts his foot on a sliver of glass and becomes infected by some descendant of transgenic experiments. Hoping that the uniquely adapted Crakers can heal him, he returns to their camp and learns that three ragged true humans are camping nearby. Snowman follows the smoke to their fire and sees two men and a woman. Unsure of whether to befriend them or shoot them, Snowman checks his broken watch, thinks "Time to go" and makes up his mind.
- Snowman, whose original name is Jimmy, is the main protagonist; the story is told from his perspective. The name "Snowman" is short for "abominable Snowman", a reference to the Yeti, a mythical ape-like creature of the Himalaya. For the online-game Extinctathon, Jimmy temporarily also has the animal code name "Thickney" (bush thick-knee or bush stone-curlew, Burhinus grallarius), which Crake chooses for Jimmy from an Australian bird known for inhabiting cemeteries (p. 81).
- Crake, whose original name is Glenn, is Jimmy's childhood friend; an excellent student in high school, he becomes a brilliant geneticist and turns into a version of the mad scientist when he devises a plan to rid the earth of Homo sapiens and replace this destructive species with a more peaceful and environmentally friendly version. His code-name for Extinctathon is from the red-necked crake, a small Australian bird. In Robin Elliott's essay on Atwood, he explains the parallels between Glenn and the famous pianist Glenn Gould. Not only are their names the same, but also in the novel it is said that he is named after a famous pianist. Furthermore, Atwood has explained that Glenn has Asperger syndrome, just like the pianist.
- Oryx is a mysterious woman, recognized by Jimmy and Crake as the waif-like girl from a child pornography site. Crake hires her for sexual services and as a teacher to the Crakers, but she tries to secretly become Jimmy's lover. After the catastrophe, her memory continues to haunt Snowman. Her name is from the oryx, an African antelope: "It's not even her real name, which he'd never known anyway; it's only a word. It's a mantra" (p. 110). She is described as likely originating from the South or South-East Asian region.
- Sharon is Jimmy's mother. She once worked at OrganInc like her husband, but stopped due to an untreated nervous breakdown. She is depressed and fights with Jimmy's father often. Jimmy vies for his mother's attention, but she spends much of her time sitting in her bathrobe and smoking. Eventually, Sharon runs away from the HelthWyzer compound, abandoning her son and taking his treasured genetically engineered pet rakunk named "Killer." Jimmy is haunted by his mother's absence, and is visited often by CorpSeCorps inspectors attempting to track her whereabouts.
- Jimmy's father, unnamed in the book, works first for OrganInc and later for HelthWyzer as a scientist. He is heavily involved in the development of pigoons. He is more pragmatic about the morality of genetic splicing than his wife. After Jimmy's mother deserts the compound, he pursues a relationship with his laboratory technician, Ramona, and they eventually marry.
- Ramona is one of Jimmy's father's lab technicians at OrganInc. Ramona, Jimmy, and Jimmy's father frequently go out to eat together. When Jimmy's father leaves OrganInc to accept a new position at HelthWyzer, Ramona makes the move with him. After Jimmy's mother's mysterious departure, Ramona moves in and takes on a motherly role in Jimmy's life.
Beginnings of Oryx and Crake
Margaret Atwood started writing the novel much earlier than she expected, while still on a book tour for her previous novel, The Blind Assassin. In March 2001, Atwood found herself in the Northern region of Australia, birdwatching with her partner during a break from the book tour. Here, while watching the red-necked crakes in their natural habitat, she was struck with inspiration for the story. However, Atwood explained that the work was also a product of her lingering thoughts on such a scenario throughout her life, as well as spending a great amount of time with scientists throughout her childhood. She stated
Several of my close relatives are scientists, and the main topic at the annual family Christmas dinner is likely to be intestinal parasites or sex hormones in mice, or, when that makes the non-scientists too queasy, the nature of the Universe.
Atwood continued to write the novel through the summer of 2001 while visiting the Arctic North, witnessing global warming's effect on the region. However, shaken by the September 11 attacks, she stopped writing for a few weeks in the autumn, saying, "It's deeply unsettling when you're writing about a fictional catastrophe and then a real one happens". However, with the looming questions of the end, Atwood finished the novel for release in 2003. These questions in Oryx and Crake, Atwood explained, are "simply, What if we continue down the road we're already on? How slippery is the slope? What are our saving graces? Who's got the will to stop us?"
Allusions and references
To other works
The cover of some editions contains a portion of the left panel of Hieronymous Bosch's painting The Garden of Earthly Delights. The cover of other editions contains a modified portion of Lucas Cranach the Elder's painting The Fall.
"It is the strict adherence to daily routine that tends towards the maintenance of good morale and the preservation of sanity," he says out loud. He has the feeling he's quoting from a book, some obsolete, ponderous directive written in aid of European colonials running plantations of one kind or another.
In chapter 5 (sub section Bottle) is "Out, out, brief candle" from Shakespeare's Macbeth.
To popular culture
In "Margaret Atwood, Transhumanism, and the Singularity", Sobriquet Magazine identified several possible pop cultural references in Oryx and Crake:
the world Atwood imagines in Oryx and Crake is hardly that far-fetched, especially online. The exhibitionistic website At Home With Anna K, for instance, is almost certainly a reference to Ana Voog's AnaCam and the lifecasting movement pioneered by Jennifer Ringley and her now-defunct JenniCam website. Likewise, many of the other fictional websites Jimmy and Crake visit in the novel have real-life analogues: Felicia's Frog Squash is essentially a crush porn portal, the premise of dirtysockpuppets.com recalls ITV's Spitting Image programme, Queek Geek sounds an awful lot like Fear Factor, and the concept of watching assisted suicides on nitee-nite.com was actualized in our world when Craig Ewert allowed his death in Switzerland to be documented by Sky TV for their controversial Right to Die documentary. Even the seemingly far-fetched idea of broadcasting live executions (which Jimmy and Crake watch on shortcircuit.com, brainfrizz.com, and deathrowlive.com) has already been discussed, with a high percentage of the U.S. population receptive to the concept.
The book received mostly favourable reviews in the press. The Globe and Mail, Maclean's, and The Toronto Star ranked the novel high among Atwood's works and Helen Brown, for the Daily Telegraph, wrote "The bioengineered apocalypse she imagines is impeccably researched and sickeningly possible: a direct consequence of short-term science outstripping long-term responsibility. And just like the post-nuclear totalitarian vision of The Handmaid's Tale, this story is set in a society readers will recognise as only a few steps ahead of our own." For The New Yorker, Lorrie Moore called the novel "towering and intrepid". Moore wrote, "Tonally, 'Oryx and Crake' is a roller-coaster ride. The book proceeds from terrifying grimness, through lonely mournfulness, until, midway, a morbid silliness begins sporadically to assert itself, like someone, exhausted by bad news, hysterically succumbing to giggles at a funeral." Joyce Carol Oates noted that the novel is "more ambitious and darkly prophetic" than The Handmaid's Tale. Oates called the work an "ambitiously concerned, skillfully executed performance".
Joan Smith, writing for The Observer, faulted the novel's uneven construction and lack of emotional depth. She concluded: "In the end, Oryx and Crake is a parable, an imaginative text for the anti-globalisation movement that does not quite work as a novel."
The Year of the Flood was released on 7 September 2009 in the United Kingdom, and 22 September 2009 in Canada and the United States. Though chronicling a different set of characters, the follow-up expands upon and clarifies the relationships of Crake with Oryx and Jimmy with his high school girlfriend Ren. It also identifies the three characters introduced at the end of the original, and finishes the cliffhanger ending.
- Atwood, 2004: 513.
- Atwood, 2004: 517.
- Andreeva, Nellie (4 June 2014). "Darren Aronofsky Adapting Futuristic ‘MaddAddam’ Book Trilogy As HBO Series". Deadline.com. Retrieved 5 June 2014.
- Coral Ann Howells, The Cambridge companion to Margaret Atwood, Cambridge University Press, 2006, ISBN 0-521-83966-1, p.186
- John Moss, Tobi Kozakewich, "Margaret Atwood: The Open Eye", Re-appraisals, Canadian writers, volume 30, University of Ottawa Press, 2006, ISBN 0-7766-0613-1, p.398
- Sharon Rose Wilson, Myths and fairy tales in contemporary women's fiction: from Atwood to Morrison, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, ISBN 0-230-60554-0, pp.43,49
- Robin Elliott, "Margaret Atwood and Music". University of Toronto Quarterly 75, no. 3 (summer 2006): 821–832.
- Atwood conceived of Oryx and Crake on a birding expedition in Australia (Atwood, 2004: 517).
- Atwood, Margaret (January 2003). "Writing Oryx and Crake.". randomhouse.com/features/atwood. Random House. Retrieved 13 December 2008.
- Atwood, 2003: 13
- Machat, 2013: 92
- "Margaret Atwood, Transhumanism, and the Singularity". Sobriquet Magazine. 20 February 2011.
- Brown, Helen (11 May 2003). "Does it hurt if I do this?". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
- Moore, Lorrie (7 January 2009). "Bioperversity". The New Yorker. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
- Oates, Joyce Carol (2 November 2006). "Margaret Atwood's Tale — The New York Review of Books". Nybooks.com. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
- Smith, Joan (11 May 2003). "Observer review: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood | Books | The Observer". London: Guardian. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
- "The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood". The Guardian (London). 29 August 2009.
- Adami, Valentina. "Bioethics through Literature: Margaret Atwood's Cautionary Tales". WVR, 2011.
- Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. McClelland and Stewart, 2003.
- Atwood, Margaret. "The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake in Context". PMLA 119, 2004.
- DiMarco, Dannette. "Paradice Lost, Paradise Regained: Homo Faber and the Makings of a New Beginning in Oryx and Crake". Papers on Language and Literature 41(2), 2005.
- Howells, Coral Ann. "Margaret Atwood's Dystopian Visions: The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake". In Coral Ann Howells (Ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood (161–75). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 161-75. ISBN 978-0-521-83966-2 (hardback) ISBN 0-521-83966-1 (hardback) ISBN 978-0-521-54851-9 (pbk.) ISBN 0-521-54851-9 (pbk.)
- Ingersoll, Earl G. "Survival in Margaret Atwood's Novel Oryx and Crake". Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy 45.2 (2004): 162–175.
- Machat, Sibylle. In the Ruins of Civilizations: Narrative Structures, World Constructions and Physical Realities in the Post-Apocalyptic Novel. WVT, Trier, 2013. ISBN 978-3-86821-431-4 (pbk.)
- Mundler, Helen E. "Heritage, Pseudo-Heritage and Survival in a Spurious Wor(L)D: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood". Commonwealth Essays and Studies 27(1), 89–98, 2004.
- Margaret Atwood Feature article, exclusive interview and book excerpt published in Bold Type, an online literary magazine.
- "Margaret Atwood, Transhumanism, and the Singularity" Includes a discussion of the novel's possible real-world allusions.
- "Adam Roberts' review of Oryx and Crake"