Thursday, October 25, 2007

Book Review: Oryx and Crake

My first novel written by a feminist since college managed to drown me in a sea of wonderous and scary possibilities. Oryx and Crake is a novel set in a mid-21st century world where science has gone to extremes of possibilities with no ethical checks and society has devolved to the point where sex, drugs, and violence occupy most of an individual's free time. Oh yeah, there's also the classic global wamring angle. You will read bits of the novel and think "We're already doing something like this with microbiology/nanotechnology/solar power". Told in a manner that flashes back constantly, you know the end game of the story, but the tension for how the ending does come about is thrilling.

The book centers around the idea that science will keep progressing, dangerous environmental issues will continue to get worse, and society itself will keep sliding further and further down the shitter. It's not science fiction, but one of those wonderful "just real enough" ideas you could throw around with friends stoned out of your mind one Saturday night. The science is just an extension of what we have now. A bit scarier is the corporate manipulation of that science, and a touch of conspiracy theory-tinfoil hat makes you go "hey, i already think that about XYZ Inc". The science was interesting enough to make you imagine the reality of that world. Still, no book is complete without flesh and blood characters to guide it.

The main charcters and the world in which they existed was interesting enough. The haves and have nots have continued to separate, people are even more obsessed with looking perfect and young, violence and sex occupy most free thought in the young, and there's even the hint that voting doesn't matter anymore. Older folks wish for the older days "when it snowed", "when voting mattered", fill in the blank thing we have now that we take for granted. Oryx is a child sold into sex exploitation that Crake and the protagonist Snowman (Jimmy) see as teens on the net. They eventually meet up with her through random chance. Oryx reminded me of those former porn stars you randomly read about that leave the industry, find Jesus, find a steady job and try to put the past behind them. She was a sensible, realistic female character. Crake is the brainchild that makes the story truly move through his actions. Brilliant, tormented by his nightmares that he does not remember, and a throwback, Crake seemed like a reflection of myself and so many other kids I remember in college. Reading the passage of Jimmy's trip to visit Crake in college, I now know how some of my home friends felt when they came to visit me at my college. Crake seemed a man out of place with his world, and like the famous quote by George Bernard Shaw, "the reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable man adapts the world to him, therefore all progress is due to teh unreasonable man".

There is one thing that bothered me with this book. The main protagonist, "Snowman" (Jimmy), is a giant dildo. He's an everyman character, from the spoiled upper class that has a bit of talent but nothign special. He is obsessed with sex, never really thinks about the big picture, and really annoys me. Is Snowman a swipe at modern young boys and men by a feminist author? I get that feeling at times. Thinking about it more, it feels more like a crying mother's description of what modern boys become through maternal neglect, bombardment with violence and sex at a young age, and an indifferent father, which is something boys already face in today's world. In some instances, I felt bad for Snowman. His shitty bi-polar mother, his corporate dad, his lack of a real connection to any woman and for that matter lack of friends. Other passages would have me rolling my eyes at a completely lame reaction to some plot point or completely idiotic move by Snowman (Jimmy). At one point, you will read the book and say "Jesus Christ Jimmy, how the phuck can't you see this coming! Stop thinking only of your dick!" Maybe that is the point. Maybe the author wants you to think how the protagonist did not put the pieces together to save mankind (if it deserved saving) because he was too busy with phucking some chick he has carried a weird fascination with since he was 14.

I do not want to spoil much and will not discuss the Crakers. I found them hysterical.

I'd give this 3 out of 5 stars. The world of Oryx and Crake is far more interesting than the characters of Oryx and Crake. It's a world I want to read about, and hope never comes to pass.

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