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Oryx and Crake

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the nice-normal-names dept.

Sci-Fi 195

daltonlp writes "I haven't felt this satisfied after finishing a science fiction novel since Ender's Game. I waited some weeks to review it, to make sure I wasn't simply infatuated. Oryx and Crake is woven from a great many themes near and dear to SF, but it's primarily a retelling of the story of Adam and Eve--except in reverse (the world isn't beginning, but ending)." Read on for the rest of Dalton's review.

The novel is a mad scientist story, where humans play God for pleasure and profit. It's a last-human-left-alive story. It's a projection of a dystopic future, where all political and economic power is held by militaristic corporations.

Most of these themes have been explored before, and they're introduced in the first couple chapters of the book. But they're handled so well, I feel like I'm spoiling the reader's experience by listing them here. Never mind, read the book anyway. Maybe you've seen this stuff before, but you haven't seen it written like this.

The measure of science fiction isn't the uniqueness of its concepts--it's what the author can do using the ideas as tools. It's about how intensely a book can penetrate into the reader's imagination, and this is driven by a writer's talent (not the raw ideas).

Margaret Atwood writes stories that are deeply layered and voiced in an incisive, conversational tone. Despite its bleak themes, Oryx and Crake is far from depressing--it's mostly cheerful and upbeat, which turns out to be a fine way to write about obsession and love and revenge and the end of the world. Somewhat like Neal Stephenson, Atwood's writing doesn't take itself too seriously. It's chock full of wordplays and grimly humorous subtexts. The result is a book that works as both a dark comedy and an allegoric drama, but feels like a conversation between the author and the reader.

Some parts of Oryx and Crake approach horror--not blood & guts horror, but what someone from the 1700s might feel if a time traveler explained the basics of how nuclear weapons, school shootings and Internet porn work today. Atwood pulls very few punches when imagining the possible extensions of humanity's greed, lust, hatred, and cold-bloodedness. Her easy pace, artful characterization and humorous touch fully engages the reader's mind, and her willingness to shock takes full advantage of the open target. The result is a mental chill that takes a long time to fade.

It's not a perfect book. Even at 374 pages, some episodes of the story arc seem abbreviated. Some of Atwood's future visions seem a bit contrived, but this depends on whether she's going for humor, symbolism, shock value or sheer inventiveness on a given page. Most pages (including the following excerpt) are a well-stirred mixture:

"On day one they toured some of the wonders of Watson-Crick. Crake was interested in everything--all the projects that were going on. He kept saying "Wave of the future," which got irritating after the third time.

First they went to Decor Botanicals, where a team of five seniors were developing Smart Wallpaper that would change colour on the walls of your room to complement your mood. This wallpaper--they told Jimmy--had a modified form of Kirilian energy-sensing algae embedded in it, along with a sublayer of algae nutrients, but there were still some glitches to be fixed. The wallpaper was short-lived in humid weather because it ate up all the nutrients and then went grey; also it could not tell the difference between drooling lust and murderous rage, and was likely to turn your wallpaper an erotic pink when what you really needed was a murky, capillary-bursting greenish red.

That team was also working on a line of bathroom towels that would behave in much the same way, but they hadn't yet solved the marine-life fundamentals: when algae got wet it swelled up and began to grow, and the test subjects so far had not liked the sight of their towels from the night before puffing up like rectangular marshmallows and inching across the bathroom floor.

"Wave of the future," said Crake."

It's too early to tell if Oryx and Crake will earn Atwood the same acclaim as The Blind Assassin and The Handmaid's Tale. Regardless, it's a powerful book--unnerving, moving and well worth reading.


You can purchase Oryx and Crake from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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The first line of the book.... (0, Offtopic)

deliciousmonster (712224) | more than 10 years ago | (#7903944)

Stand Back, I don't Know How Big This Thing Gets...

Re:The first line of the book.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904000)

Oryx. What is it all about... is it good, or is it whack?

Double Jeopardy (2, Funny)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904436)

> Stand Back, I don't Know How Big This Thing Gets...

I'll take Canadian Literature for $1000, Alex.

What are "Things I Never Want To Be In A Position To Say To Margaret Atwood?"

Re:Double Jeopardy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904504)

Why not? She's hawt!

Re:Double Jeopardy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904531)

Oh wait, she's not. Got a pic of Sandra Bullock by accident, sorry.

Re:Double Jeopardy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904527)

There's no $1000 clues in Double Jeopardy anymore. They raised the dollar amounts to 200/400/600/800/1000 in the first round and 400/800/1200/1600/2000 in Double Jeopardy.

Re:Double Jeopardy (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904557)

Did they do it to compensate for the strong Euro?

Geez, Made Me Look... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904782)

Why couldn't the author's name appear in the teaser? I had to go all the way to the article to see it was crappy, misogynistic Margaret Atwood.

Bleah.

The Handmaid's Tale (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7903949)

... was mildly entertaining, but it came across like a low-wattage The Stand. Old-school King at his best could kick just about anyone's ass, including Atwood's. Maybe it's time I read Atwood again, just to see if she, unlike SK, has improved with age...

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904062)

Hmm... I've seen THT compared to the Dark Tower novels, but I don't know that I'd compare it to The Stand. Pretty different themes. Still, you're right, in that Atwood has received substantial accolades for work that was no better than stuff the critics just laughed at when Stephen King wrote it.

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904068)

just to see if she, unlike SK, has improved with age

I thought he was found dead some time ago? Truly an American icon...

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904131)

Yeah, even if you weren't a fan of his work, it's hard to deny his impact on American culture.

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904286)

American culture

Best oxymoron ever.

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904159)

I'd post that as AC too. King is a hack and The Stand is about a 1000 pages too long. Comparing him with Atwood is ridiculous. One is cheap thrill fiction and the other is serious social commentary.

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904176)

serious social commentary. Read: Preaching to the converted (and the New York critical establishment).

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904196)

serious social commentary. Read: Preaching to the converted (and the New York critical establishment).


As opposed to what in King's case? Screeching to the demented?

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904281)

"As opposed to what in King's case? Screeching to the demented?"

Entertaining his audience?

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (2, Interesting)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904365)

Old-school King at his best could kick just about anyone's ass, including Atwood's.

Back in the 80s, I picked up a copy of "The Gunslinger", first in a series by King that his fans (at least some of them) were calling his masterwork. It read like it had been written by a high school student, very flat writing and an unengaging plot.

Was this book in particular overhyped? Or is King just another highly-succesful mediocre author?

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904378)

is King just another highly-succesful mediocre author?
YES him and Tom Clancy are good friends

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (2, Interesting)

cK-Gunslinger (443452) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904637)


"The Gunslinger" is the first book in the "Dark Tower" series. It was written something like 15 years before the second book. I agree that the writing in a bit dull and the book is not entirely entertaining, but it does set the stage for the series. The next books are, to me at least, amazing pieces of literature. Maybe not the best writing ever, but the characters and story-line more than make up for it. Book II is cool, but the 3rd book, "The Wastelands" is by far my favorite in the series. Excellent story with a cliffhanger ending. (The books always seem better if you read the series as they are released. The waiting seem to intensify the experience.) Book 4 wraps up the cliffhanger (nothing too exciting) but then branches off into flashback. I would argue that this book is, by far, the best written of the series, and has a dramatic and epic ministory. It's only disappointing in that it doesn't advance the plot much. It does, however, provide some excellent character development. I just read the latest book, Wolves of Calla. I must admit that it was a bit of a disappointment. The series is getting rather "odd." All his books seem to intertwine with the Dark Tower Universe, sometimes in clever and subtle ways, sometimes in obvious, but this one just blantantly merges characters from previous books into the story. *SPOILER* Near the end, the main character even picks up a copy of "Salem's Lot - by Stephen King." This, after already meeting Father Callahan and hearing his story of vampires. It might be interesting to see where this is going..

Anyway, I'm sure my opinion is rather biased.

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904722)


Comparing The Gunslinger to the rest of the Dark Tower series would be like comparing The Hobbit to the LoTR books. Yes, they take place in the same world, with some of the same characters, and they set up the plot for the later works, but they are orders of magnitude different in style and composition from their larger works. Or something like that. Anyway, don't judge King's DT Universe by that one book...

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (1)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904720)

but it came across like a low-wattage The Stand.

The Stand may be high-voltage entertainment, but Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid's Tale actually have something to say about people and our future. King can tell a story, no doubt, but that's all he's trying to do.

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904886)

King can tell a story, no doubt, but that's all he's trying to do.

Did you intend to imply that was a bad thing? After all, that's all Shakespeare (among others) was trying to do too.

Re:The Handmaid's Tale (2, Interesting)

rowdent (203919) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904803)

Um, no...

King is at best a mildly okay Hollywood script writer, whereas Atwood is one of the finest authors of recent years.

The Handmaid's Tale is a magnificent example of postmodern writing that subtly subverts our understanding of "the narrator". If you read the "Historical Notes" you'll notice that the entire narrative up until that point consisted of random unordered tapes collected by chauvanistic historians. This subverts our whole understanding about truth and chronological order in the text. Pure genius.

my opinion of 'Oryx and Crake' (-1, Troll)

W32.Klez.A (656478) | more than 10 years ago | (#7903959)

Throughout the novel Atwood deliberately mutilates words or combines them in grotesquely commercial ways, symptoms of a deeper disease, a metaphor for the cutting and pasting of genetic material. Books are not literally burned in Oryx and Crake but digital convergence produces all the same effects described in Fahrenheit 451. So, when people exclaim that this is not science fiction, I must say, I'm inclined to agree with them. I find myself rereading parts because I have to let the words sink in a bit, and I'm definitely not a person who has dificulty reading complex things. All in all, a great read.

Re:my opinion of 'Oryx and Crake' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904004)

I like it when authors mutilate words and language.

Any text is alive only at the moment of its creation - then it's frozen and dies only to be admired by the people who can only admire dead things.

Re:my opinion of 'Oryx and Crake' (1)

iainl (136759) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904135)

Umm, you don't think its Science Fiction /because/ it has similarities to Fahrenheit 451?

Hmm...

Re:my opinion of 'Oryx and Crake' (1)

tiled_rainbows (686195) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904416)

No, he doesn't think it's science fiction because he found parts of it hard to understand. Science fiction, as we all know, is only read by subliterate teenagers. If the grandparent poster, obviously a man of superior intellect, couldn't understand parts of it, how on earth would one expect the average spotty Sci-fi fan to cope? Ergo, it is not Sci-fi.

Re:my opinion of 'Oryx and Crake' (1)

phatlipmojo (106574) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904891)

Whoa, defensive much?

Coincidence? (5, Insightful)

thentil (678858) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904430)

Hi! I find it interesting that googling for "Atwood deliberately mutilates words" comes up with a result in Google! In fact, those couple of sentences are ripped directly from this much more complete review [infinityplus.co.uk] . Nice try though!

Re:my opinion of 'Oryx and Crake' (2, Interesting)

Alzheimers (467217) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904447)

Language of the Future in literature has always interested me, so I'm curious to see some examples of her literary "mutiliations and grotesqueries."

The greatest books that ever used altered/mutated language as metaphors for the state of humanity were 1984 and A Clockwork Orange. Something about "Ultraviolence" and "Doubleplusungood" strikes just how society has evolved.

How does this compare?

Re:my opinion of 'Oryx and Crake' (2, Insightful)

sh00z (206503) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904618)

The greatest books that ever used altered/mutated language as metaphors for the state of humanity were 1984 and A Clockwork Orange.
I take it that you've never read Riddley Walker [amazon.com] . It handily trumps the abovementioned texts.

Re:my opinion of 'Oryx and Crake' (1)

kevin@ank.com (87560) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904540)

Interesting comment. Since the most free time I have during a week is on my daily commute, I listened to 'Oryx & Crake' on MP3-CD, and spelling, punctuation, and such oddities don't translate.

On the other hand, the reader is quite good, so I would recommend the audiobook version -- in exchange for the loss of print oddities you get the reader's inflection and tone which can contribute quite a bit to the meaning.

My only disappointment with Oryx and Crake was that the eventual ending seemed a bit abrupt. I wasn't sure why the book stopped at that point, specifically. Certainly the plot was complete, the world had been adequately filled out, you now finally understood everything that had happened; but you don't really get to do anything with this character that you now fully understand -- ready, steady, charge and ---? THE END.

An epilogue in the language of the Crakers was needed to wrap it up.

Re:my opinion of 'Oryx and Crake' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904953)

Throughout the novel Atwood deliberately mutilates words
That is totaly unlike /. wear werds are mutilated compleatly bye misstake.

Must stop scanning headlines... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7903961)

I fist read it as "Oxy and Crack" and wondered why Slashdot was running a story on drugs.

Re:Must stop scanning headlines... (0, Offtopic)

Captain Pedantic (531610) | more than 10 years ago | (#7903996)

Haven't you ever wondered about the number of of dupes, and the atrocious speling and grammer?

Almost all Slashdot stories are posted on drugs.

Re:Must stop scanning headlines... (0, Flamebait)

Alan Partridge (516639) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904195)

The other explanation - shocking in its implications - is that the American public education system is a sick joke, all the more depressing for the amount of (borrowed) money that the American government spends on military aid to prop up its client states abroad and military adventures to serve the aims of its controlling petrochemical industry.

Re:Must stop scanning headlines... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904438)

I'll bet you can turn anything into an anti-Imperialist troll, can't you?

Re:Must stop scanning headlines... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904396)

When I read your post I thought you were referring to your late night hobby (fi*$ing). :P Sorry had to troll. But seriously, when are we going to see a /. article on drugs??! Reviews could be nice

FreeBSD was the One (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7903973)

Newsflash! FreeBSD was the one operating system that installed cleanly on my new dual opteron based on Tyan K2SPro S2882 with integrated 2xU320 SCSI.

Truly remarkable!

NO! THAT CANNOT BE! IT'S UNPOSSIBLE! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904028)

Shut up, shut up, shut up!

BSD IS DYING and you've better believe it!

Re:FreeBSD was the One UPDATE!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904103)

Who gives a shit?

My thoughts (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7903977)

This book was quite a bit different than the usual Margaret Atwood novels and this is primarily because this is a work of science fiction. I did not particularly enjoy her other work from the science fiction genre, "The Handmaid's Tale". However, I understand that that book was one of Atwood's most popular works probably because it was a favorite among feminists. I doubt feminists would find much to relate to in this book unless it was how men have managed to finally screw everything up completely. I have never been much of a fan of science fiction but I admit that it reads better when a writer of Atwood's skills is the author.

This book starts out a bit confusing and left me unsure if I should re-read the first 20 or so pages to try and figure out what was going on. However, I soon found myself in the groove of the novel and was able to piece things together as I went along. I believe this is how Atwood meant it to be as she shifts back and forth in time. We begin with what seems like an armageddon scenario and, by the end of the book, understand how it came to be.

The author seems to have a fixation on how genetic engineering will be the cause of the fall of mankind. Essentially, the message is passed along that, if we create a health system that preserves us all, then we'll have to find some other way to destroy ourselves. (At least that's what I got out of the book). Along the way, Atwood has her usual keen insight to how we all interact with one another as well as how our inner thoughts seem to work. I admit that I was left wondering if I had missed a bigger theme but I was content with the one I detected.

To my knowledge, Margaret Atwood has never written a bad book although I never read her poetry or essays. Sometimes the story line isn't as interesting or absorbing as others but there is always a lot to pick up on along the way. This book got better as I kept reading but then it ended rather abruptly. I believe the author left it up to us to figure out the way it should properly end.

Warning, parent is a repost (2, Informative)

W32.Klez.A (656478) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904102)

This is a repost from the amazon review [amazon.com] of the book.

Re:Warning, parent is a repost (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904163)

But you have to admit, it's a highly successful karma whore. Hopefully after your post though, it won't be for long.

Re:Warning, parent is a repost (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904209)

Because then Klez's post becomes the karmawhore post. It was probably Klez that posted the review anonymously in the first place. He's a known karmawhore anyways.

Re:Warning, parent is a repost (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904528)

Why, I think you're right! Good way to karma whore, although honestly I don't know why he goes to the trouble, you can get karma in a number of much easier ways. The mods never learn.

THE BALLS (4, Informative)

kgbkgb (448898) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904654)

You have a lot of balls for calling someone up on reposting from another source, when you did exactly the same thing not half-an-hour ago.

http://books.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=91901& th reshold=0&commentsort=0&tid=186&tid=214&mode=threa d&pid=7903959#7904430

In my opinion, this kind of thing deserves banishment from slashdot.. and maybe bamboo spikes shoved under the nails.

Re:My thoughts (2)

Phillip2 (203612) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904183)

"However, I understand that that book was one of Atwood's most popular works probably because it was a favorite among feminists. "

Or because its a rich novel, with a compelling plot, and the wonderful use of language that you would expect from her.

Also it was made into a film in which Natasha Richardson gets her kit off.

Phil

Re:My thoughts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904471)

> Also it was made into a film in which Natasha Richardson gets her kit off.

"Stand back, I don't know how big this thing gets?"

Re:My thoughts (3, Interesting)

Grab (126025) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904220)

Hmm, maybe worth reading then.

On the "never written a bad book" front, I have to say that I found "The Handmaid's Tale" to be a bit of a misanthropic rant without much to recommend it - the "keen insights" are trite repetitions of stereotypes. That's why I was quite surprised by the comment in the main review, "Atwood's writing doesn't take itself too seriously". THT was so leaden, I'm surprised it didn't bust my bookshelf!

Off-topic - I have to say that THT isn't science fiction, in the same way as 1984 isn't science fiction. For some reason, any novel set in the future is automatically labelled "science fiction", regardless of the actual content. Ho hum.

Grab.

Atypical Atwood (1)

ProfessorDoom (82503) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904237)

I doubt feminists would find much to relate to in this book unless it was how men have managed to finally screw everything up completely. I have never been much of a fan of science fiction but I admit that it reads better when a writer of Atwood's skills is the author.

I found this book fascinating because it seemed clear to me that Atwood was not writing the book for her usual audience. The writing itself was much simpler than her previous books and the strictly male narration is unique to this book. (I could be missing something but I've read all of her books along with most of her poetry and short stories.) My conclusion was that she wants this book read by the science fiction crowd, hoping her message catches them.

I loved the open ending, somewhat placing the future in our everyman's hands. I've enjoyed hearing people speculate on what happened next, exactly what she wanted IMHO.

The Handmaid's Tale (1)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904711)

The Handmaid's Tale is probably one of the best books I've read. Essentially its 1984 except remove Stalinism and replace it with the American Religious Right. The characters are done extremely well, the story is a page-turner, and it contains some very thoughtful analysis of social issues.

Its more an "elseworld" story like The Man in the High Castle than it is sci-fi so I can understand why people used to space operas, techno-thrillers, and cyberpunk might not like a book that is a tad more sophisticated the same way TMITHC is some of PKDs most sophisticated work.

Re:My thoughts (3, Informative)

BRSQUIRRL (69271) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904772)

You might be interested to know (or you might already know, actually :>), that "The Handmaid's Tale" was recently created in opera form [npr.org] .

orynx my nizzle (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7903978)

fp for yinz from pittsburgh heights

Meep (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7903984)

Tasty spoo

You impertinant imposter! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904126)

If I ever meet you, I WILL KICK YOUR ASS!

Slashdot needs to do a better job of honoring the old ways...

Atwood's best? Maybe, but maybe not. (5, Interesting)

Ophidian P. Jones (466787) | more than 10 years ago | (#7903988)

Perhaps not. In terms of her use of language, form, depth of charaterisation etc. the 'The Blind Assassin' is technically Atwood's greatest novel so far.

But having read all her novels, I've got to say that 'Oryx and Crake' is my personal favourite. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this book, how engrossed I was with every word, and how moving, shocking and disturbing I found it. It's one of the best books I've ever read. It's one of those books that, once you've finished the last page, stays with you, and when you're not reading it you're thinking of it.

And it's one of those books that, when you finally close it, you so wish that you could've put your name to it yourself. It's an immense work of imagination. I finished it well over a week ago and still think of it. I found it extraordinary. The way Atwood evokes her distopian futuristic world in every detail and makes it come alive and breathe is quite incredible. I was hooked.

I was hoping it would be good but it far exceeded my expectations. The book's nightmarish vision of the future makes 'The Handmaid's Tale' look like a picnic, and while you're reading Atwood makes you live in that world, makes you feel what Snowman is feeling. What horror. Frighteningly, plausibly, brilliant!

I read this book. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7903994)

I was disappointed because Oryx and Crake is uninspiring literature. Even on the level of just "story", I would opt for Jurassic Park for gripping narrative and vivid imagination. If I read Atwood, Golding, Grasse or others that I consider accomplished "literary" writers, I look for an aesthetic pleasure. Oryx and Crake just plods; there is little beyond the events and a few clever (and distracting) neologisms to carry one along. I wouldn't even take it on the plane for a good read.

our book review (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7903995)

Certain scenarios have become standard fare, almost cliches, within the science fiction world. The end of civilization, indeed the death of man himself, due to his constant meddling with the environment, other life forms, and his own germ plasm have been envisaged many times before. This book remains a cut above most earlier attempts, as it adds a very believable human face to the disaster, ties it to both man's dreams and his nightmares, and wraps it inside a potent love triangle.

From the beginning of this book, where we meet Snowman, possibly the last true human, living in a tree and dependent on the half-human Children of Crake, till the very end of this book, where the full horror of the situation is clearly exposed, there is a sense of inevitability to events, a clear line to its envisioned world from the headlines of today. As Snowman tells his tale via flashbacks to his own past, a picture is developed of technology both fighting and aiding the deleterious effects of prior technologies. From the global warming induced drowning of the coasts and the collapse of world's resources abilities to feed an ever-growing population, to terrorist and greedy corporations designs of new diseases and environmentally harmful crosses of various animal species, each element piles on to background structure. In the foreground we follow Jimmy (Snowman's original name) and his childhood friend Glenn (Crake) as they go through school and find jobs as part of the elite, those whose mental abilities make them employable by the movers and shakers of the world, the genetic research laboratories. During their joint exploration of the internet, they run into Oryx, a child prostitute, who will eventually figure prominently in their lives.

Crake is a very interesting character, a super-genius who keeps his own emotions hidden, sometimes even from himself, as he first conceives of and then implements the idea of designing a better human. A human who is not subject to wild emotional swings of love, who will not have the need to defend property as he will live on grass and sunshine, who will be carefully isolated from any contact with violence-causing ideas such as 'God' and 'mine'. But Crake is not immune to being human himself, and is in fact dependent on others, primarily Oryx and Jimmy, which is really his flaw. Jimmy is the perennial follower, but when forced to take charge, his actions become the final lynch-pin in the ultimate disaster and his tales the beginning of a new mythology. Oryx is the ultimate woman, fully caring and giving, perhaps too much so, without the ability to turn others to a line of action of her choosing - but perhaps she never wished to. These characters grew on me as I learned more about them, as each had characteristics I could see in myself, different parts of a mirror.

The power of this book lies in the dynamic between the dream and the practical, between the intent and the result, between the giving and receiving of love. There are several layers of meaning and symbol buried within its fairly conventional story, layers that built an emotionally powerful edifice in my mind, an edifice completed with the last scene of this book. Sad and depressing, with little room for hope, a well depicted portrait of man as he is, unvarnished.

more reviews here [terrato.org]

Oryx & Crake (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904005)

This is arguably one of the darkest dystopias I've read in a very long time. Atwood's genius lies in the fact she can take concepts in the present-day and extrapolate them to the furthest fictional limits without detaching from reality. If you think O & C is a brilliant book, go check out her earlier dystopia - The Handmaid's Tale. Oddly enough, her predictions in that book about America's future are starting to come true...

Re:Oryx & Crake (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904434)

Funny thing is Atwood is a Canadian and so it'd be more accurate to say "Oddly enough, her predictions in that book about Canada's future are starting to come true... "

Re:Oryx & Crake (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904940)

Yes, because we all know it's impossible for a Canadian to write about the US.

Good book (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904014)

Though Atwood has said that she does not write science fiction, I believe that this book proves that statement to be misleading. To me this book is an excellent example of well-written soft science fiction. The story's somewhat disjointed narrative works well to evoke the narrator's jumbled memories of the events leading to the decimation of the human population. The character of Oryx doesn't seem very well fleshed out, and there is the sense that she just functions as a narrative jumping off point for the changing relationship between Snowman and Crake, but as a whole, the characters were still believable to me. Atwood doesn't describe the science used in much depth, and what she does explain is a bit questionable in places, but I found the story to be very effective and literate nonetheless. And the pigoons freaked me out.

Re:Good book (4, Interesting)

iainl (136759) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904155)

"Atwood has said that she does not write science fiction"

Science Fiction can't be good. This is good. Therefore it can't be SF. Its the same annoying argument that has English professors claiming 1984 and Slaughterhouse 5 are greats, while refusing to have anything to do with the latest Stephenson or whatever. Banksie must drive them up the wall.

Solutions? (1)

rilister (316428) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904589)

It's a sad state of affairs indeed. But the shelves in my local book store are crammed with the novels that give SF a bad name.

I'm also totally aware that Banks, Stephenson, Clarke at el write good books by any standard, but I can understand why other authors would want to disassociate themselves.

Solutions? How about creating a new name for creative, literate SciFi?

It worked for "Graphic Novels", right?

I'm aware this is snobby, but it also happens to be true. It's those covers, man, I can't go near them. Any ideas for a name?

Re:Solutions? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904842)

Solutions? How about creating a new name for creative, literate SciFi?

It worked for "Graphic Novels", right?

I'm aware this is snobby, but it also happens to be true. It's those covers, man, I can't go near them. Any ideas for a name?


umm... Speculative Fiction? This idea has been tried before.

Re:Good book (1)

kevin@ank.com (87560) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904694)

The story's somewhat disjointed narrative works well to evoke the narrator's jumbled memories of the events leading to the decimation of the human population.

Decimation [hyperdictionary.com] like hell. I think you are trying to say extinction.

Adam and Eve, but in reverse? (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904029)

Um... if it's about the world ending, wouldn't that be closer to "Genesis" in reverse -- or just "Exodus"?
Just wondering what exactly Adam and Eve have to do with the world beginning. They're just the biblical story of the "fall from grace" of mankind, unrelated to the creation of the earth.

Re:Adam and Eve, but in reverse? (1)

galt2112 (648234) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904290)

Adam and Eve were [supposedly] the first humans, and the last of God's tasks related to the creation of the world. Please recall from the biblical point of view, the earth exists for the purpose of mankind. Adam and Eve are therefore intimately related to the creation of the earth.

Re:Adam and Eve, but in reverse? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904310)

Absolutely unrelated. Unless you count the fact that they were part of the creation!

Re:Adam and Eve, but in reverse? (1)

dcsmith (137996) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904351)

Just wondering what exactly Adam and Eve have to do with the world beginning.

Could be that part in Genesis 1:26-27 where God creates man as one act in the creation of the world...

Re:Adam and Eve, but in reverse? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904492)

Um... if it's about the world ending, wouldn't that be closer to "Genesis" in reverse -- or just "Exodus"?

How would it be like Exodus? I don't think that has anything to do with creation or end of the world.

I hated it (3, Interesting)

MonkeyBoyo (630427) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904057)

I only finished the book because there has been a lot of discussion of it. I found it badly written, pretentious, technically unknowledgeable, ..., and pandering to the sexuality of 14 year old boys (lots of discussion of penises and the only female character is a child prostitute).

Re:I hated it (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904081)

badly written, pretentious, technically unknowledgeable, ..., and pandering to the sexuality of 14 year old boys

You just described a majority of comments posted on Slashdot.

Re:I hated it (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904493)

Not to mention
lots of discussion of penises

Re:I hated it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904114)

I don't remember this being a review of a Neil Stephanson(I probably spelled that wrong) book!

(This comment is only slightly joking)

Re:I hated it (1)

imsabbel (611519) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904616)

Yeah, the only thing worse than a neil stephanson book is the german translation of one.
You can really feal the struggle of the translater to decide if its supposed to be funny simply dumb...

Re:I hated it (3, Funny)

aardvarkjoe (156801) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904250)

Given that the reviewer said "I haven't felt this satisfied after finishing a science fiction novel since Ender's Game", I'd say that badly written and pretentious was exactly the kind of book that he wanted to read.

Re:I hated it (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904360)



I have seen this reaction a few times from nerds and I wonder why people are willing to dismiss a book because the science is a bit wonky.

Seems to me that a book telling a tale like this would be boring as hell if the author broke out tech diagrams every now and then. Or worse, a long winded Larry Nivenish physics lesson.

I don't think a book like this needs to have hard science behind it. If it did, no one would read it.

Why nerds don't like sex in books is an easy one. They have no interest in a subject of person fiction.

Re:I hated it (1)

Noren (605012) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904738)

I have seen this reaction a few times from jackasses and I wonder why people are willing to dismiss a poster because the topic is a bit nerdy.

I'm completely fine with a book which has something probably not possible (say, long-distance personal teleportation) in an SF setting where the details are never discussed. That gives me no reason to think about it, and the author isn't trying to be pretentious about it. Even a very brief, non-detailed 'explanations' is okay ('using a phenomenon related to quantum tunneling', say.)

The problem arises when a half-assed explanation with numerous known problems obvious to someone with a technical background is given. That will annoy me, as it'll both trigger me to think about why it's impossible and it will also make me see the author as someone who tends to spew bullshit.

Authors should either get the science right or not talk about it at all... trying to bluff through science is what annoys me. This being said, I haven't read the book in question, so I don't know where it falls on this spectrum.

Re:I hated it (1)

blamanj (253811) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904821)

Perhaps you were an odd 14-year-old, but Atwood is one of the last writers I'd expect to be accused of pandering to adolescents.

She's an excellent writer, (my second favorite Canadian author after Robertson Davies [amazon.com] ) and I've enjoyed some of her books such as

Alias Grace [amazon.com] , a historical novel about 19th century attitudes towards women and mental health.

The Handmaid's Tale [amazon.com] , a dystopian novel where Pat Robertson/Jerry Falwell types have established a puritan, patriarchal society.

The Robber Bride [amazon.com] , a hilarious dissection of three 50ish women and their friendships.

All her themes are focused on adults, and tend to focus on feminist issues. Not the stuff of your average kid's fantasies.

An alternative.... (1)

The Ape With No Name (213531) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904133)

I suggest "Memoirs of a Survivor" by Doris Lessing. When I read Oryx and Crane I really noticed the project that Lessing set out on in that book being 'tried on' by Atwood. Everyone focuses on 'Handmaiden' with Atwood (esp. knownothings), but her later stuff really is great. O&C might not rate though. It just felt like a riff on Lessing to me.

Available at Audible.com (4, Interesting)

clifyt (11768) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904161)

I've had an audible subscription for three months now, but *THIS* book was one of the best I've heard so far. Shit, I picked up my iPod two years back solely to use for Books on CD and things like that, but it was too damn annoying to use until Apple licensed the Audible content and decided to allow you to pause the chapter and listen to music and then come back to the same pause in that file.

I picked up Ender's Game on Audible as well, and it was cool (I actually got more out of Speaker of the Dead in dead tree format) but it just didn't do it as well as this one did.

Great oration and it enhances the story instead of detracting from it (I've picked up serveral tha I got part of the way into the dead tree versions and had to stop because of workloads...and thought I'd finish them up on an airflight -- I can't read while in the air for some reason -- or one one of my many drives to Nashville lately...7 hours of mundate pushings of the gas pedal).

If you were ever interested in checking out these kinds of services, check it out...the only problem I had was there wasn't a real resolution to the book...it feels like a halfway end...it finishes the story of Crake and Oryx (characters in the book), while never finishing the story of the 'Snowman' -- the lead narrator telling the story of C&O, but far more interesting than it seems eiher of them ever were. Oryx is too one dimensional to care about as anything but a prop, and Crake is just...well, he too is one dimensional, but that is mainly from the narriation as opposed to his actual being. I just couldn't bring myself to caring whatever happened to Oryx, and Crake just projected himself too far into the future (especially since this is a latter retelling of the tale...hindsight is always 20/20) that his end of the story was told far before ya ever got the intimate details...no, the REAL story is about Snowman, and it was left unfinished.

Lets hope this is a big enough seller that Atwood feels like revisiting it soon and gives it a proper ending...

I have lent out Orxy and Crake so many times... (1)

bentfork (92199) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904165)

That I have lost track of who has it now. Atwood created a well defined near future. She made a mistake or two when it came to potential technologies, but her humans behave the way they should. If we could vote on the ranking of this book i would give it a 9/10.

Another Opinion (4, Insightful)

nanojath (265940) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904192)

Personally I didn't like this book as much as the several others I've read by Atwood. I found the speculative premises simplistic and contrived, ignoring the complexities of ecology in favor of an essentially alarmist, naive presentation of The Horrible Dangers of Tampering with Nature!! This is increased by the use of this character of the catastrophe-inducing mad-genius scientist, when the real story of global ecology is our actions as a collective 6-billion strong (and still rising, falling sperm counts notwithstanding)


I didn't hate the book and found it a quick and reasonably compelling read, but it didn't really leave any lasting impression or make me feel like I had learned anything. I've generally liked Atwaters writing and in particular the Handmaid's Tale, so this particular opinion may be best judged by that taste. The book just seemed pretty slight to me, despite the end-of-the-world type premise. I'd say if you're an Atwater fan it's worth a read but if you dig on hard-science speculative fiction you'll probably be dissapointed.

Another review (2, Insightful)

Jonathan (5011) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904872)

Exactly. There's no new ideas there, just the old mildewy mad scientist meme, that goes all the way to Frankenstein and actually even further into the medieval legend of Dr. Faustus.

I wrote a review of the book shortly after returning from four years living in Canada, where Atwood is of course revered.

Oryx and Crake
Margaret Atwood, 2003
Doubleday

Margaret Atwood is probably the most famous living Canadian author. However, despite living in Canada for four years, I never got around to reading any of her works, and so I resolved to rectify this by reading her latest novel, "Oryx and Crake". Atwood is well known to write speculative fiction that addresses trends in society that she finds distressing -- if her literary credentials weren't so impeccable, she would be called a science fiction author. In the case of "Oryx and Crake", the trend she is addressing is biotechnology.

Now, I'll admit that I am not the most receptive audience to books attacking biotech -- I am after all a microbiologist, and, although my own research is more basic than applied, I am naturally sympathetic to applications of biotechnology. On the other hand, I agree that there are ethical problems with some applications of biotechnology that cannot be ignored. So, does "Oryx and Crake" address these ethical problems?

In a word, no. Basically, Atwood's arguments boil down to the assertions that 1) tampering with organisms is creepy and disgusting and 2) scientists are insane and will destroy society for the hell of it. Oh, and they're also pedophiles to boot.

The book is written as a flashback, as the hero, Jimmy (or Snowman), describes how he ended up as one of the last human survivors on Earth. He was a high school friend of Glenn (or Crake), the guy who later created a plague to kill everyone off. This is all evident in the first few pages, so I'm not giving much away here. Plotwise, the only reason to continue reading is to learn Crake's motivation, but this is never fully revealed in any case. I suspect we are to accept that Crake was warped by attending a university dedicated to molecular biology, while noble Jimmy attended a liberal arts college and thus became a better person.

But enough about plot. This isn't a novel by a hack like Crichton, but a work by a serious author. How is the writing? I'd have to say somewhat disappointing. While certainly much better than that of Crichton, I'd have to say that the more literary science fiction authors such as William Gibson and Neal Stephenson actually write better prose than Atwood, if "Oryx and Crake" is representative of her work.

In summary, I don't think that Atwood's high reputation could have been based on such cartoonish work. I can only assume this is one of her lesser works.

The bible (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904217)

Apparently you need to read Genesis again cause you're way out to lunch on that reverse thing.

start here: Genesis 1 [biblegateway.com]

I don't get it (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904232)

What does this have to do with Linux or SCO? Please stay on topic for Slashdot.

why are there so many "Ender's Game" fanboys? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904247)

I read it after seeing many references to it on slashdot.
in a word. weak.
to each his own, i guess.

FP! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904398)

First post, woo hoo
How ya like that?

Well... (0, Offtopic)

vasqzr (619165) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904450)

I remember back in 2nd or 3rd grade, some kid got on the PA system and said something funny...can't remember what it was. Wasn't anything bad though.

There was a microphone in the office, speaker in every classroom.

He got suspended for like 3 days.

I loved the audiobook (O&C). (1)

Wanderer1 (47145) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904509)

I listened to this audiobook earlier last year and loved it.

The narration was excellent. The book was like a fine candy to enjoy. When I was done, I was both satisfied and saddened to leave the characters behind. I would *not* like to see the book extended to a sequel; I think the enjoyable flavor of the book is dependent on being brief and ambiguous at the end.

This is absolutely one of my favorite titles. If you dig apocalyptic tales, ever played Wasteland on your computer, enjoyed the Mad Max movie series or read Snow Crash - you'll likely enjoy this book.

Don't get the link between Snow Crash and O&C? Consider the way that the enclaves transcend traditional government "social balance" to bring dangerous corporatism to the forefront. Another book that I would link in this area is Beggars and Choosers by Nancy Kress. Probably more for the focus on an era where humanity is more or less done and something else has taken over than for the "corporatism" angle.

I obtained my copy of the book from Audible. I've been a customer there for a very long time and have enjoyed so many audiobooks that if I can find an unabridged audio title, i'm more likely to select it than a text edition. I would invite you to check out Oryx & Crake as an audiobook, I think you'll find that audiobooks with this quality of narration are *more* enjoyable than the text-only editions. The measured delivery has a different and desirable effect on the imagination. It also tends to shorten roadtrips.

Currently I'm listening to the Dark Tower series from Stephen King, and reading eBook editions of the Heritage of Shannara series from Terry Brooks on the commuter train. Both audiobook and eBook reside in my Dell Axim PDA - one of the most useful functions of my PDA so far.

- Bill

worst character ever (2, Funny)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904550)

That team was also working on a line of bathroom towels that would behave in much the same way, but they hadn't yet solved the marine-life fundamentals: when algae got wet it swelled up and began to grow, and the test subjects so far had not liked the sight of their towels from the night before puffing up like rectangular marshmallows and inching across the bathroom floor.

"Wave of the future," said Crake."

towlie [southparkstudios.com]

dystopic future (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7904709)

"It's a projection of a dystopic future, where all political and economic power is held by militaristic corporations."

isnt' that just current day USA?

Its not Science Fiction! (1)

BigTom (38321) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904743)

Margaret Attwood doesn't write science fiction. When asked she said:

"No, it certainly isn't science fiction. Science fiction is filled with Martians and space travel to other planets, and things like that.".

She cannot risk it being science fiction because it won't be accepted as 'real' literature.

Stephen Baxter Manifold: Space (1)

reptilian biotech (237193) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904883)

Im currently reading Stephen Baxter's Manifold: Space - It is a very interesting read, however I must say at about the half way mark, the book is very depressing when you look at the overall picture it has created.

I dont like depressing, the snow and ice does it well enough for me.

Also reviewed on k5. (3, Informative)

waxmop (195319) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904905)

I wrote this review of Oryx and Crake [kuro5hin.org] for k5 [kuro5hin.org] back in June of 2003. In a lot of Margaret Atwood's stuff, there's a theme where people try to understand/make peace with some inexplicable tragedy. At the end of Oryx and Crake, I felt like it wasn't clear why Crake decided to wipe out humanity; that may have been Atwood's intention.

Anyway, I'm happy to see something besides Flash Gordon science fiction getting reviews here.

That's quite an understaement (1)

David Mazzotta (590711) | more than 10 years ago | (#7904919)

The novel is a mad scientist story, where humans play God for pleasure and profit. It's a last-human-left-alive story. It's a projection of a dystopic future, where all political and economic power is held by militaristic corporations. Most of these themes have been explored before...
The castaways struggled desperately to get off the island, but were doomed to failure in the end via some fatalistic misadventure. This theme has been explored before...
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