Book Review: Oryx and Crake..and a few other things…

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Lately I have been on a dystopian kick. I finally finished Snow Crash, and have been meaning to finish Neuromancer. I read all of William Gibson’s books backwards in time..Anyway,I saw the film Collapse, which left me pretty spooked. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know what the deal was in regards to Global Warming, mass droughts, food shortages, and the correlation between US Imperialism, the ongoing wars in the world, and the fight for natural resources…I do. The film left me chilled because it seemed like a never-ending montage full of atrocious images of mankind at its worst. It didn’t so much evoke end of the world scenarios as much as it blatantly showed the ramifications of greed. I admire Michael Ruppert and his personal story, I just wish there had been something hopeful about the way things ended for him. I wonder what Zizek would make of the film…Well, the title of the film says it all. I suppose I was deluded into thinking it wasn’t going to be so utterly alarming. It really is a fine piece of slick propaganda that is important because it tells the story about a man who was continuously screwed over for asking too many questions…and the consequences of those questions, which were evaded and straight out denied. My advice is to refrain from watching the film if you are super depressed, having trouble sleeping, lacking critical thinking skills,or a conspiracy theorist…

The film may have some people believe that the world is being reduced to rubbish. I stand by my opinion that the plethora of new technologies, which are moving at an exponential pace, have left a trail of misery for those who make our gadgets, including the computer I am using at this very moment. Ted Anthony calls it “America’s Digital Manifest Destiny.” I won’t get into the topic of where the metals and materials come from that are used to make our cell phones and computers, because this post will end up being one long disjointed stream of consciousness that won’t make any sense. Plus, I want to talk about the character Crake.

Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is possibly one of the best dystopian novels I have ever read. As I was reading it, it struck me that it is not only a dystopian novel, but one of magical realism. I hadn’t read such a darkly beautiful piece of literature since Marquez’s A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. I do reread 1984 and Brave New World from time to time because I think they are important and brilliant…but there is something about the protagonist in Oryx and Crake that deeply resonates with me. The way in which Atwood describes her main character is both funny and tragic.His name is Jimmy and he suffers from low self-esteem and loneliness. He lives in a bubble community that favors the wealthy, and tries to keep the undesirables out. I am not talking about Beverly Hills or Greenwich, but of a city that is essentially made of corporate compounds. The outside world is one of chaos and dwindling natural resources.

Jimmy’s parents don’t pay attention to him. His father works for a corporation while his despondent mother stays at home, smoking cigarettes and languishing in apathy and fear. Jimmy makes a friend at school who changes his life forever. His friend Crake is a scientific genius who ends up being accepted at very respected institution for the study of bioengineering. Crake’s views regarding mankind and the world are often ambiguous, but at the same time are somewhat cynical. I do think he had hope..

While Jimmy attends a lower ranking college, Crake begins working on something very powerful and secretive for the corporation he works for. Atwood doesn’t give much away until the end of the novel, which I very much enjoyed. Judging from the very first page, I knew things would not turn out so great for Jimmy. As for Crake…well….

As the book came to a close, I found myself wondering if Crake was a martyr for the planet. I am not so sure. What I do know is that Atwood weaves a tale that is both discouraging and hopeful. It may be a cautionary tale about the future, and the role in which humans play in the destruction of the planet. Perhaps even its rebirth.

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