“Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood is what happens when one of my favourite authors writes a novel on my favourite genre: biopunk. I’ve always been interested in this genre of books, TV and film, but always mentally referred to it as a sort of science fiction based on genetics, but it wasn’t until today that I actually found out that there is a specific name for it. I could wax lyrical about biopunk and list all my favourite stories in this genre, but I’ll save that for if/when anyone asks me (please ask me). Suffice to say, biopunk tends to be speculative fiction or dystopian fiction focusing on a society where genetic engineering not only has been introduced, but has often become rampant and unregulated.
But anyway, my brother Fletcher and I have been playing a fair bit of book swapsies lately, and after lending him “The Blind Assassin” by Margaret Atwood, he recommended that I try her novel “Oryx and Crake”. When I found myself a copy, the bright green bunny on the front cover was just the radioactive icing on the genetically modified crake…I mean, cake.
“Oryx and Crake” follows the life, past and present, of a man called Jimmy who refers to himself as Snowman. Snowman appears to live on the fringe of a small community of not-quite people he calls Crakers who treat him with a mixture of reverence and caution. As the story unfolds, the reader begins to understand the circumstances that led to Snowman becoming such an unlikely custodian of the land he finds himself in. This book is followed by two sequels, neither of which I own or have read yet. I am hoping to get a chance to do so this year, somewhere amongst my ever growing to-read list.
Atwood is a master storyteller who is able to expertly grapple with historic, present and future issues. Her characters are at once both complex and imperfect, and you find yourself willing them to succeed and triumph in the face of adversity. It is Snowman’s humanity, his faults, his passions, his strengths, his weaknesses and his failures that make you keep on reading and keep on hoping for him.
Atwood is also fearless when it comes to tackling the darkest aspects of society. Snowman is painted in his youth as complicit degenerate, scouring the internet as a voyeur seeking the most abhorrent displays of people being exploited for entertainment. Only Atwood would be able to make such activities relatable to the average reader. She has a real talent for reaching the dirty reprobate hiding in all of us, taking it out and forcing us to acknowledge it, examine it, and move beyond it. There are no heroes in Atwood’s novels, only humans.
If you haven’t yet had the privilege of reading Margaret Atwood’s works, this is as good a place as any to start.