This is the intention of the novel: to goad us to thought by making us screen in the mind a powerful vision of competence run amok. What Atwood could not have intended, and what is no less alarming and exponentially more urgent, is the resonance between her rampaging plague scenario and the recent global outbreak of SARS. Moving from book to newspaper, or newspaper to book, the reader realizes, with a jolt, how the threshold of difference has been lowered in recent months. The force of Atwood's imagining grows in direct proportion to our rising anxiety level. And so does the importance of her implicit caution. — Sven Birkerts
Set in a future some two generations hence, Oryx and Crake can hold its own against any of the 20th century's most potent dystopias -- Brave New World, 1984, The Space Merchants -- with regard to both dramatic impact and fertility of invention, while it leaves such lesser recent contenders as Paul Theroux and Doris Lessing in the dust. — Thomas M. Disch
Atwood has visited the future before, in her dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale. In her latest, the future is even bleaker. The triple whammy of runaway social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event. As Jimmy, apparently the last human being on earth, makes his way back to the RejoovenEsencecompound for supplies, the reader is transported backwards toward that cataclysmic event, its full dimensions gradually revealed. Jimmy grew up in a world split between corporate compounds (gated communities metastasized into city-states) and pleeblands (unsafe, populous and polluted urban centers). His best friend was "Crake," the name originally his handle in an interactive Net game, Extinctathon. Even Jimmy's mother-who ran off and joined an ecology guerrilla group when Jimmy was an adolescent-respected Crake, already a budding genius. The two friends first encountered Oryx on the Net; she was the eight-year-old star of a pedophilic film on a site called HottTotts. Oryx's story is a counterpoint to Jimmy and Crake's affluent adolescence. She was sold by her Southeast Asian parents, taken to the city and eventually made into a sex "pixie" in some distant country. Jimmy meets Oryx much later-after college, after Crake gets Jimmy a job with ReJoovenEsence. Crake is designing the Crakers-a new, multicolored placid race of human beings, smelling vaguely of citron. He's procured Oryx to be his personal assistant. She teaches the Crakers how to cope in the world and goes out on secret missions. The mystery on which this riveting, disturbing tale hinges is how Crake and Oryx and civilization vanished, and how Jimmy-who also calls himself "the Snowman," after that other rare, hunted specimen, the Abominable Snowman-survived. Chesterton once wrote of the "thousand romances that lie secreted in The Origin of Species." Atwood has extracted one of the most hair-raising of them, and one of the most brilliant. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
The doyenne of Canadian literature (she's won both a Booker and a Giller Prize), the versatile Atwood has an uncanny ability to write in a number of literary genres. Like The Handmaid's Tale, her latest work is set in a near future that is all too realistic and almost too terrifying to contemplate. Having once led a life of comfort and self-indulgence, Jimmy, now known as Snowman, has survived an ecological disaster that has destroyed the world as we know it. As he struggles to function without everything he once knew, including time, Snowman reflects on the past, on his relationships with two characters named Oryx and Crake, and on the role of each individual in the destruction of the natural world. From its opening scene, in which the children of Crake scavenge through debris, to its horrifying conclusion, this novel challenges the reader, cleverly pairing familiar aspects of the world with parts that have been irrevocably changed. A powerful and perturbing glimpse into a dark future, this is Atwood's impassioned plea for responsible management of our human, scientific, and natural resources and a novel that will cast long and lingering shadows in the reader's mind, well after the book is closed. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-Caroline Hallsworth, City of Greater Sudbury, Ont. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Environmental unconcern, genetic engineering, and bioterrorism have created the hollowed-out, haunted future world of Atwood's ingenious and disturbing 11th novel, bearing several resemblances to The Handmaid's Tale (1985). Protagonist Jimmy, a.k.a. "Snowman," is perhaps the only living "remnant" (i.e., human unaltered by science) in a devastated lunar landscape where he lives by his remaining wits, scavenges for flotsam surviving from past civilizations, dodges man-eating mutant predators, and remembers. In an equally dark parallel narrative, Atwood traces Jimmy's personal history, beginning with a bonfire in which diseased livestock are incinerated, observed by five-year-old Jimmy and his father, a "genographer" employed by, first, OrganInc Farms, then, the sinister Helthwyzer Corporation. One staggering invention follows another, as Jimmy mourns the departure of his mother (a former microbiologist who clearly foresaw the Armageddon her colleagues were building), goes through intensive schooling with his brilliant best friend Glenn (who renames himself Crake), and enjoys such lurid titillations as computer games that simulate catastrophe and global conflict (e.g., "Extinctathon," "Kwiktime Osama") and Web sites featuring popular atrocities (e.g., "hedsoff.com"). Surfing a kiddie-porn site, Jimmy encounters the poignant figure of Oryx, a Southeast Asian girl apprenticed (i.e., sold) to a con-man, then a sex-seller (in sequences as scary and revolting as anything in contemporary fiction). Oryx will inhabit Jimmy's imagination forever, as will the perverse genius Crake, who rises from the prestigious Watson-Crick Institute to a position of literally awesome power at the RejoovenEsenseCompound, where he works on a formula for immortality, creates artificial humans (the "Children of Crake"), and helps produce the virus that's pirated and used to start a plague that effectively decimates the world's population. And Atwood (The Blind Assassin, 2000, etc.) brings it all together in a stunning surprise climax. A landmark work of speculative fiction, comparable to A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, and Russian revolutionary Zamyatin's We. Atwood has surpassed herself.
“Rigorous in its chilling insights and riveting in its fast-paced ‘what if’ dramatization, Atwood’s superb novel is as brilliantly provocative as it is profoundly engaging.” Booklist (starred review)
“A landmark work of speculative fiction, comparable to A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World.… Atwood has surpassed herself.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[Oryx and Crake is written] with a style and grace that demonstrate again just how masterful a storyteller she is. If one measure of art’s power is its ability to force you to face what you would very much rather not, Oryx and Crake the evocative tale of a nightmarish near-future is an extraordinary work of art, one that reaffirms Atwood’s place at the apex of Canadian literature.” Maclean’s