Oryx and Crake is set in the future; how far, is left for the reader to decide. Genetic engineering has been taken to new extremes with pigs modified to grow extra organs for transplants, and chickens that have been commercially perfected to grow multiples of the same edible body part, be it breast or drumstick, but don’t have any other normal functions. Anything is purchasable in this new era, including new non-wrinkly skin or your choice of genes for the perfect baby.
Jimmy, or Snowman, as he later calls himself, and his friend, Crake, grow up in this world where human life is cheap and science is God. Crake, a scientific genius, recognises how innately corrupt and potentially doomed the human race is and so deigns to create a new one with the ability to live in peace and happiness and not destroy itself as the present one seems destined to do. This however must mean the untimely termination of this first race (that’s us), even before it has the chance to screw itself over.
The story bears many similarities to that of Noah; Jimmy is chosen as the new Noah, the sole survivor of a deliberate world-wide disaster, to care for and guide the new, innocent people. Crake however has more success than God in ridding the world of evil as God didn’t alter the genetic make-up of the intrinsically flawed beings.
The story is also reminiscent of Ben Elton’s earlier works Stark and particularly This Other Eden; the world and its people being deliberately destroyed by huge multi-national companies for profit, the apathy and defeatist attitudes of the public and the escapist tactics of those who can afford it. However the one that ends up playing God in the ultimate sense in Oryx and Crake (Crake) doesn’t hold selfish or fantastical notions for himself, he just wants to create something better than what we are. He is simply a scientist willing to sacrifice everything, including himself and his people, for his work and that idol we all love and revere – progress.
In an interview with the Listener, Margaret Atwood states that this book is not science fiction but “speculative fiction,” that is, the events could happen and the ideas have already taken place or at least have started to. She also claims that although imagination plays a big part in the creation of her new worlds, all the concepts and inventions in the book are scientifically viable.
Some interesting ideas are explored and the deliberate closeness to a possible reality gives Oryx and Crake some credibility. However, some of the concepts aren’t very original and have been done better before. Also, the writing was unstylistic and some of the story lines got dull at times. Not a complete write off, but reasonably disappointing.