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Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

This is a stunning tale of a future genetically modified and gene spliced on its way to oblivion. Margaret Atwood's dystopian tale of the future "The Handmaids Tale " told of a society altered by fundamentalist religion and politics. Here in Oryx and Crake the society is home to rampant capitalism and consumerism with genetically altered foods and drugs being pushed onto the market as the environment is collapsing. Not actually covered in the novel but alluded to, the worlds weather has changed with global warming making large parts of the world uninhabitable but with a growing population the answers to food and disease all come from huge global genetic companies. There is an elite part of society, those that live in the safe sterile gated communities owned by the Genetic corporations and work for the corporations. Outside these havens are the pleeblands – where all the rest of the population live. I couldn’t help thinking of the plebeian masses in 1984 – the corporations have their own security police and monitor all movements.

Living in this supposed paradise are the two main characters – teenage boys at odds with their surroundings using the Internet to escape their increasingly bizarre world. Alienated from their parents they find solace in each other talents in school and beyond on the Internet. Growing up they appear to have joined the consumer rat race they appeared to despise but we soon find out they are working toward a whole new destiny – the problem is they haven’t fully grasped the dreadful possibilities of their new world. Or so they would have us believe.

A sci fi warning novel waiting to be written given the present race to genetic engineering I think. Atwood is a brilliantly descriptive writer who appears to have been dying to write a truly sci fi novel for years. Combining her abilities to describe the human condition and to narrate a believable dystiopian future she manages to get a well-paced believable book with a streak of black humour that doesn’t allow the narrative to become bleak as it would if it took itself wholly seriously. As each twist and turn of the awful global mega corporations unfolds the genetic race gets worse and worse and the genetically altered chicken for the fast food restaurants is truly stomach churning. It gets worse when they decide to genetically re engineer the human race – playing God at its very worst. The narrative opens in the far future after a global holocaust that has left genetically altered humans to inherit the ruins with one of the main characters, Snowman, as a kind of post apocalypse tramp whom they look to as a Moses type character in the wilderness. Told in part as flash back the dreadful truth infolds and there are stark lessons for us all. Tense in places with superb dialogue, wit and black humour it could have been twice as long and still been too short. Enigmatic as only Atwood can be at least the ending makes sense – a criticism of Atwood not without foundation. A brilliant book indeed, which missed out on the Booker Prize but deserves high praise indeed for a superb take on a problem of mankind’s future that desperately needs discussion. At least in a novel the polarisation between Science and religion can be pushed to one side and the real fears can be aired in a neutral environment. A fantastic read which I’d recommend for everyone as well as those who were perhaps put off by Atwood’s other works.


What a Carve up! By Jonathan Coe

This is a full on juicy farce - a satirical look at not just the eighties but big business, the media and the damage both of them do. Using as a framework old early sixties farcical movies featuring Sid James and friends, mainly the 1961 movie "What a carve up" featuring Shirley Eaton and Kenneth Connor too at times I wasn't sure whether the writer was imagining it all! The satire takes on the look of the movie as viewed by a reclusive writer attempting to write the history of a powerful and corrupt family who are big in the Arms industry, the media, politics and factory farming. There are a lot of characters and the time frame stretches from the 40's to the 90's - the early parts of the book were at first a little confusing but it all starts to fall into place just like the old movies used to in a corny way. Don't let my lack of reviewing ability deter anyone - it’s a funny novel, very funny indeed - its razor wit when applied to the Arms Industry and the rise of Saddam Hussein in the 80's is remarkable. BSE, the Health Service the decline of quality in the media are all covered and are as fresh and relevant now as they were when it was first published in 1994 in fact there is never a dull moment and the time shifts and character subplots keep up the pace quite well. I did think whilst reading this that even I should have lost track of all the goings on but the writing is so subtle that it just moves along so smoothly that I had got through it without really having to stop and "work it out" as it were.

I am a self confessed lover of novels with any kind of eighties theme so the coverage of Thatcher's government with all the shenanigans that went on like privatisation etc went down very well with me. This isn't to say that any in depth knowledge of the time is necessary as it's all explained - knowledge of the time merely adds to the admiration of Jonathan Coe as he weaves this web of intrigue around the characters. It soon starts to resemble a whodunit in its finest form and then it get really quite funny the final chapters are ludicrous in the extreme and this adds to enjoyment. Larger than life hate characters, full on stereotypes they are all here for the asking - though even with this the narrative is never cold or formulaic. Exciting yet silly in equal measure this was an entreating and thought provoking novel indeed - I found it a thoroughly interesting read indeed.!