Margaret Atwood is no stranger to speculative dystopian fiction. Her most popular novel The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a future where women are treated as no more than breeding machines. In her nightmarish novel Oryx and Crake Atwood goes darker, bleaker and more imaginative.
In a disorienting first act, we’re introduced to Snowman – a pitiable character who appears to be the last surviving man on the planet, his only company being odd humanoids called Crakers. Eventually, through flashbacks we begin to understand how such a world came to pass, choreographed by his friend Crake who, like him, was one of the privileged few born to scientists living in gated communities away from a rapidly degenerating world outside the walls.
The scientists experiment (recklessly) with genetic engineering, sometimes leading to failures like “pigoons”, genetically modified and excessively clever pigs. While Snowman, known as Jimmy before everything starts to go horribly wrong, chooses to initially distance himself from these experiments, Crake, a veritable genius, goes deeper down the rabbit hole, consumed with a vision of a genetically-superior world.
Atwood’s depiction of a world obsessed with genetic mutation is eerily relatable, nearly 15 years after it was first published. Dark, macabre but not entirely outlandish, Oryx and Crake is a warning note against scientific experimentation devoid of an ethical core.
The New Yorker reviewed the book as “towering and intrepid” while The Independent called it “an irresistible tale of techno-tyranny and human rebellion.”