Review: Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

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Just when you thought there could be no more post-apocalypse novels worth reading along comes Margaret Atwood’s MaddAdam Trilogy.  What Atwood does effectively is imagine a complete world that is a few skips past our own timeline.  In this world everything is bio-engineered.  Private corporations have all the power.  The smart and well-off live in private company compounds where life more or less is stable. The next group of people (think professionals who may not be that bright) live in modules: less secure gated communities.  The rest of humanity lives in petri-dish like cities called the pleeblands where crime and violence are rampant.  A Haliburton like security force controls everything and resources are scarce.  What is not done so effectively the narrative arc.

I found myself asking, what’s the story here?  Is it about the post-apocalypse world where Jimmy/Snowman acts as a prophet and teacher for a new species of people that have been genetically engineered, or is the story about the build up to the apocalypse and Crake and Jimmy’s relationship?  For me, the post-apocalypse world was the most interesting, but nothing really happens in that storyline.  Jimmy/Snowman goes to his former compound to get some food and interacts with the Crakers (the genetically engineered people).  It covers three to four days.

The rest of the novel is all flashback and starts when Jimmy is a little boy.  He’s smart, but not a “number’s person” and compared to the kids in compounds, he’s not that smart.  Things putter along, and Crake enters: a genius level teenager who is dark and silent.  He and Jimmy become friends.  Things continue to putter along and under the weight of so much backstory the novel becomes frustrating.  A subpar love story is introduced that is built solely on Jimmy’s fantasy.  Crake rescues Jimmy from his dead end existence as a marketing guy for a lesser compound.  However, Crake is using Jimmy, and when a pandemic floods across the world Jimmy is left alone to survive and watch over the Crakers.

Overall, there are great ideas, some interesting characters and a rich world.  These strongpoints carry the novel as it suffers from a plodding pace, too much backstory and a disappointing ending.  Still, I’ve already started the second book and will probably read the third when it comes out.

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