My friend, Kelly, is a serious athlete—she does triathlons and runs marathons and is an all-around fitness goddess. She’s one of my fitness motivators and has so inspired me to give up my excuses and get moving to take control of my own health. But years of running and extreme fitness are not without injury; her knees have paid the tolls on all those hard-impact miles. Somewhere in the discussion of how to fix her damaged joints, a doctor brought up the possibility of growing some new cartilage for her inside a mouse. Apparently “they” can do that now---grow human cartilage inside the body of a mouse. The doctor showed her this picture:
Yuck. Kelly decided not to go that route. I think I’d be creeped out forever if I knew that she had parts that were grown inside a rodent, so I’m glad she declined.
Science is making leaps and bounds when it comes to creating spare parts for people, or designing food that defies nature. Some of it seems like a good idea, but people thought DDT and Thalidomide were good, too. Are we really better off by having genetically modified soybeans so that they can resist herbicides? Yeah…I really want to eat food that has been sprayed repeatedly with poison, or how about a chicken bred so that has breasts so large it can’t walk. How appetizing.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood is a story that brings these ideas to a frightening place. It’s set in a future where large corporations have control over our society. The educated and wealthy who work for these corporations live in highly guarded compounds and if you’re not part of that group, you suffer in the “pleeblands,” where dog eat dog is almost literal. (People eat dog/Dog eat people are definitely literal…) In this future, chickens are modified to have 10 breasts and no head or brain function outside of growing breast meat. Pigs are modified to grow real human organs inside them, including human brain tissue, which makes these pigs unnaturally intelligent and dangerous. Designer drugs offer risk-free sex with unlimited pleasures. But if you step outside what the corporation wants you to do, watch out…people have a way of disappearing or having unfortunate accidents.
The story is told by “Snowman,” who may be the last natural human being on Earth. We find out something terrible has happened to everyone else. Only the mysteriously beautiful “Children of Crake” are his companions, but they are not quite human. Snowman tells us his story, both the current story in this post-Armageddon world of dangerously wild genetically modified creatures and the story of how this disaster happened. He goes all the way back to his childhood to illustrate this dystopia and explain the events that caused almost every human being on earth to be killed…on purpose.
The only other Margaret Atwood book I’ve ever read was The Handmaid’s Tale, and that was also a scary-future book, but one where ultra-conservative groups take over our country and strip women of all rights. Like Oryx and Crake, it contains just enough parallels to current social trends to make you think…could this really happen? I think Atwood likes to make people take a step back and re-evaluate the world around them.
Crack Factor – 9.995. This is a complete and total crack book. I devoured it. Atwood is really great at maintaining suspense. Even though you have an idea of what happened to all the human beings on Earth throughout this book, you don’t know for sure, and she has a way of dropping just enough little tidbits to keep you turning the pages as fast as you can until you know what happened.
Distraction Factor – 9. This book had me reflecting on everything from industrialized agriculture and factory farming to genetically modified organisms, Botox and test tube babies. And it’s still got me thinking about how dangerous it could be to mess with nature as much as we already are.
Writing Skills Factor – 9.5. Atwood’s style is different, but amazing. She published this book at the age of 64, (which is my parents’ age.) I find it fascinating that she can write about such raw subjects—some of them are very sick and twisted ideas, and she gets into the head of an teenage boy and writes his thoughts so convincingly well. It’s impressive, really, and shows her depth as a writer. I guess I just look at her picture and I think…she could be one of my mom’s friends…and yet my mom’s friends don’t plot the end of the world.
People Factor – 7. This isn’t really a character book. And normally the characters are the most important part of a book for me. This isn’t to say that the characters are weak. The main characters of Snowman/Jimmy, Oryx and Glenn/Crake are pretty well defined and interesting, but this book is more about story and message than it is about characters.
Story Telling Factor – 9.5. I really like the way Atwood organized the book. She introduces us to this post-Armageddon world and then Snowman tells us bits and pieces of his life from childhood right up to the destruction of almost all humans on Earth. Definitely a page turner and the way she did it, I couldn’t even skip ahead like I normally do when there are intense parts because if you skipped ahead 20 or 50 pages you would have been lost—you really had to follow the story the way she laid it out. A good author doesn’t let me cheat! I love her and I hate her for it at the same time!
Total Rating – 8.999
Postscript---I also just finished The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, which is a sequel of sorts to this book. I think it actually takes place at the same time, but in the same world with the perspectives of different characters, telling a very similar story. It was great, too. Review to follow soon.