“Snowman wakes before dawn.”
With these words, Margaret Atwood begins a journey into a possible future that is at once terrifying and breathtaking.
Oryx and Crake is the sort of novel that might be called “sci fi” or “dystopian,” but it is not a cheap genre book with a tired story. It is a relationship between the reader, the protagonist, Snowman, and the world he wanders through. We meet Snowman at the end of the world, as a tired, angry, defeated survivor, alone on a rocky beach with the ruined remains of civilization through the woods in the distance. His only companions are savage “wolvogs” (wolf/dog hybrids bred to look adorable but act vicious) and the “Crakers,” a group of primitive, artificially bred human-like creatures who look to Snowman as something of a god.
What follows is Snowman’s life, slowly poured out to the reader like the personal account of a friend or family member. We learn of Snowman’s past, and with it the history of this ruined world, as well as his friendship with brilliant scientist Glenn, or “Crake.” We explore his frustrations and conflicts with a society that is at once very close to our own but only a little more unrestrained in its consumerism and selfishness. Finally, we are introduced to a figure that captivates Snowman and comes to affect him, Crake, and the whole world: Oryx.
Oryx and Crake is an exhausting read. Atwood’s writing is potent. She chooses every word to be as powerful and as engaging as it needs. She guides us through the story moment by moment, now telling us of Snowman’s past, now returning us to his lonesome present, showing us two worlds: one full of potential but wasted on trivialities; the other ruined and destroyed but still beautiful. What this creates is a book that is powerful and touching. It will leave you feeling as if you have lived alongside Snowman through his journey.
Atwood’s novel is not one that can be tossed into the “science fiction” category as a simple diversion. Her exploration of a possible future touches on many aspects of modern society, taking our consumerism, our wealth disparity, and our selfishness and revealing their true face. Oryx and Crake is set in a world with pig/human hybrids, city-sized gated communities, and corporations in place of governments, but it is our world. It is us. This is a novel about today, now, here, not some world far away. Reading this book is coming home.