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11.7.05

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.

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