As I read and enjoyed ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘The Blind Assassin’ and ‘Cat’s Eye’ before I started writing this blog, I thought it was high time I read more of Margaret Atwood’s work. ‘Oryx and Crake’ is the first book in Atwood’s critically acclaimed dystopian MaddAddam trilogy of novels and tells the story of Snowman – also known as Jimmy – who is believed to be the only human survivor left in a post-apocalyptic world along with genetically modified creatures called Crakers. As Snowman makes a journey back to the place where the destruction occurred which wiped out the human population, we learn through flashbacks how the world came to be almost destroyed and what happened to his friend Crake and the mysterious Oryx.
Atwood explains that ‘Oryx and Crake’ is a work of speculative fiction rather than science fiction: “Like The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake… contains no intergalactic space travel, no teleportation, no Martians. As with The Handmaid’s Tale, it invents nothing we haven’t already invented or started to invent.” The novel covers a wide selection of themes, ideas and possible scenarios involving ecological disasters, global pandemics and the power of the Internet. Set towards the end of the twenty-first century, it is a reasonably distant future yet close enough for the possible bleak consequences to be very concerning for the present generation.
As with all of the best speculative fiction, it is the plausibility of Atwood’s imagined world which is the most terrifying aspect of the novel. Crucially, Atwood is an author who doesn’t just research scientific ideas but actually understands them and conveys them knowledgeably and accessibly in a way which few writers are capable of. Consequently, I always feel that I’m in safe hands when reading one of her novels which are always intelligently written with engaging characters and powerful messages.
The ending is particularly vague and abrupt with a number of loose ends left hanging. Even without the knowledge that ‘Oryx and Crake’ is the first book in a trilogy, I think it would be clear that the ideas and characters presented could be explored much further. I will certainly be reading the novels which conclude the trilogy, ‘The Year of the Flood’ and ‘MaddAddam’ and I would also like to read ‘Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing’ as I’m always intrigued by how authors perceive their craft, especially those as imaginative as Atwood.