Margaret Atwood,
Oryx & Crake
(Anchor, 2003)

A year after reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, I attempted to withdraw money from an ATM. It was out of order. So were the next two machines in that vicinity. The futuristic society of The Handmaid's Tale immediately flashed to mind, and I feared that my funds were diverted to my ex-husband. Atwood had crafted a tale with such staying power and credibility.

Atwood's latest novel Oryx & Crake is another cautionary tale of a grim future. It's a compelling story of our world in a mere two centuries, where genetic engineers can create customized animals for harvesting organs or feeding mass populations. It's a society with extreme but penetrable security. Due to previous terror attacks people no longer gathered in stadiums or other large areas. Disease had been virtually eliminated, but bioterror attacks turned isolated victims into hemorrhaging blobs of goo.

Oryx & Crake opens with the self-named Snowman alone by the sea. We are told that humanity was destroyed. All the remains are Snowman and the Children of Crake, with their luminescent green eyes, built-in insect repellent and animalistic sex rituals. The novel reveals, bit by bit, the relationships and technological genius that led ultimately to these post-apocalyptic remnants. Atwood reveals Snowman's initial identity as Jimmy, his meeting with the brilliant Crake and their glimpse of the elusive Oryx on a child-porn television channel. They are connected and doomed to extinction just like the animals from whom they've chosen monikers.

The society Atwood depicts is frightening and provocative. The possibilities are too realistic. The manipulation disastrous. Atwood's prose pulls readers and leaves them trembling among pink skies and piles of debris.

Only time will tell if Oryx & Crake has the staying power of Atwood's previous glimpse of a future we should avoid. This outcome, scientific rather than political, seems even more likely -- and more devastating.

- Rambles
written by Julie Bowerman
published 22 May 2004

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