Joseph by David Szalay

I was on an unpleasant train journey and thought I could get rid of some time by listening to short stories. When I saw one with the tag of train rides I jumped on it. The story, Joseph by David Szalay is about a couple of vagrants in a foreign land, trying to get by begging on the streets. Being a short story we don’t get a lot of history about these characters. There is however the clear indication that they intensly regret whatever turn of events that brought them to begging. The unnamed narrator is the older of the two but a newcomer to begging. His friend, Joseph mentors him at the outset, only to commit suicide shortly after, leabinl the narrator lost. This isn’t a story about suicide but rather about how life can get you down. It is a story about fate; the wearing down of the human spirit till it is no more. A depressing story, no doubt.

I can’t say I quite liked it much, given its subject matter. The execution too, leaves the reader more blind than one would like to. I wish there was something more to this stoey, that it didn’t end so abruptly. But I suppose that is the point of the story that life is abrupt, that it begins when it begins and ends when it does and there is no more to it than that.


Reading ‘Oryx and Crake’: Day 6: Pages 354–431 (End)


Life at Crake’s Paradice.

First view of the Crakers; Crake’s magnum opus. They have been raised to reproduce sui generis. In an artificial environment, an artificial Garden of Eden. Crake calls them the floor models of the new models of humans that they are about to make. Humans who have been cleansed of all the mistakes of traditional humanity. Jimmy asks, ‘Are they robots or what?’

They are programmed to drop dead at the age of thirty. No old age, no sickness. No fear of death. And this, according to Crake is a version of immortality. Having no conception of death is akin to being immortal.

“Babies are immortal.”

The Paradice method was being marketed as an easy way of creating artificial populations.

The Pill would put a stop to haphazard reproduction. The Paradice Project would be an alternate method of reproduction and sustenance of the species.

The destructive features of the primate brain would be edited out. This is Frankensteinian in its scope. Jimmy intervenes, “Didn’t you get a bit carried away?”

Vegans, says Crake, have shown interest in beautiful and intelligent babies who can eat grass. ‘Oh good, your baby can double as a lawn mower.” Various political organisations had shown interest in populations who would unquestioningly follow orders, without critique or the ability to protest.

Crake in Love.

We are back to Snowman’s perspective. It is raining outside and Snowman after having gathered all that he could from the bubble dome is starting on his return expedition. He has also picked up a nasty infection in his foot, one that will not be subdued by the all in one vaccine cooked up by Crake. This could be his undoing. He often thinks about how the microbes are gradually turning his foot to jelly.

Snowman is abominable, an aberration.

Enter Oryx: In the flesh. It is strange that it is only in the final few pages of the novel that we get to see this titular character in the present. Even this is not without problems because, there is no Oryx anymore who is not inextricably linked to Snowman’s memories of Oryx. The real Oryx is non-existent, an Oryx who is not tied to Snowman anymore. That Oryx is confined to the mythology of the Crakers, their collective memory and knowledge and also to the skeleton that is left outside of Paradice. These are the only ways in which Oryx still continues to function as an agent in this novel. Of these, the latter is pliable to influence by Snowman. The former is too, in that Snowman could choose to dispose of the body of Oryx but he seems not to be thus inclined, partly out of his enduring love for Oryx and also his overarching resignation about these end days when nothing seems to matter much anymore. Why would he bother with these bodies, these empty shells that used to harbour the two humans who were closest to him.

Snowman first sees Oryx when she was inside the bubble dome teaching Crakers – he could not recognize or tell her apart from them. Then later, Crake introduces her to him and he (Crake) seems to be unaware of Jimmy’s obsession with her. Jimmy is taken aback by what he clearly recognizes as Crake’s love for Oryx. Here is a man who he supposed would never be afflicted by ‘love’ and now look at him!

‘Crake was in love, for the first time ever.’

Crake had met her through the student services at Watson Crick. He had been specific about who he wanted as a teacher for Crakers and they had found her.

At Paradice she chose her name after a gentle water conserving east African herbivore – sadly extinct.

Jimmy’s job is a cakewalk. Paradice products such as the BlyssPluss pill would sell themselves without much need for advertisement.

Jimmy visits the pleeblands where he sees these products being vended, with Oryx playing a vital part in the distribution, she uses her business acumen and her contacts to sell these across the globe.

Oryx recognised Jimmy’s enduring attention towards her and seduces him. ‘Crake won’t know’, she says.

“You always think the worst of people, Jimmy”. – when Jimmy needles her about being sexually exploited in a garage.


The catastrophe strikes. A new hot bioform outbreak reported from all around the world. No recourse in containment measures effective.

Both Crake and Oryx separately elicit promises from Jimmy that he’d take care of the Crakers in their absence.


The outbreak is recognised as a rogue haemorrhagic. Airborne and waterborne. Jimmy recognizes that the outbreaks are from wherever Jimmy’s BlyssPluss pills have been distributed. Oryx goes to get takeout pizza. Crake is also out. Oryx might have confronted Crake about the pills being used as a kind of biological warfare.

Crake slits Oryx’s throat. Jimmy shoots Crake with a spray gun.


Snowman limps back to his beach encampment. Through the verdure and up springing weeds he goes, hoppity hoppity hop.

Crake and Oryx have been vulturized.


Description of the collapse of civilization.

The first two weeks were spent sealed in in the bubble dome. Listening to news reports. The bioform was a supervirulent splice. JUVE – Jetspeed Ultra Virus Extraordinary. The destruction of the human race does not seem to affect Jimmy much. Crake use to say that homo sapiens sapiens were not hardwired to individuate other people in numbers above 200, the size of the primal tribe.

After the transmissions cut out, Jimmy spends his time watching old movies. ‘Key Largo’, ‘The Birds’, ‘The Night of the Living Dead’.  Jimmy writes a letter outlining what has happened and blaming Crake for the destruction.


Jimmy leads the Crakers away from the bubble dome. He gives them various mythologies and made up histories about the roles of Crake, Oryx and himself.


Snowman returns from his expedition and makes plans for the future. He is feverish from the infection on his foot. He knows that the antibiotic is not helping.

The Crakers have meanwhile made a substitute for Snowman – an idol that they prayed to in his absence, praying for his return.

Crake had said, ‘Symbolic thinking of any kind would signal downfall’.

After Snowman’s return, the Crakers dismantle and throw away the idol. Snowman fells as if he himself is being torn up and scattered.


Snowman considers giving a sermon to the Crakers to lay down some commandments. Decides the better of it, since they would not be able to comprehend the dangers he’d be warning them against.

The Crakers tell Snowman about a party of three people who had arrived at the camp while Snowman was gone. They were armed but they fled after being alarmed at seeing the Crakers. The Crakers had made sexual advances to the woman in the party, thinking that she’d be like themselves.


“How can the world still be so beautiful?’”

Snowman comes upon the party of three upon the beach. He does not know what to do. To approach them would be to expose himself and the Crakers to danger. But at the same time, he cannot bring himself to shoot them pre-emptively. They have personally done him no harm. If he disarms them, them might ambush him later. He is growing weaker from the infected foot – he doesn’t have much time to decide.

The novel ends. “Zero hour – Time to go”.

Reading ‘Oryx and Crake’. Day 5. Pages 305 – 353

We pick up the cue from Snowman’s perspective. He is inside the gatehouse, the twister has gone – he has lost his sense of time. There is something in a corner of the room – a land crab – another spliced bioform? – it has one pincer – possibly designed to tend to gardens – like a living lawn mower.

He finds himself ambushed by pigoons. They display extraordinary intelligence and cunning. Though they may look like pigs, these are extremely efficient predators – pack hunters. 20-30 of them. “Honey, you’re fucked.”

The pigoons use his garbage back (containing the things he picked up from the first house) as bait to lure him out.

He finds food in a kitchenette at the guard house. Also finds a wind up radio. White noise. “Just that sound, like the sound of starlight scratching its way through outer space. kkkkkkkkkk.” He receives a message.


There is a cut on Snowman’s foot. He watches the sunset. He is not very impressed by it. He supposes that the glow of the view screens which would have filled the room when the guards had been there would have been much more impressive.

‘If I’d killed Crake earlier’, thinks Snowman, ‘would it have made any difference.’

So, Snowman was the one who killed Crake?

Snowman escapes on to the rampart of the guard house. He forgets to take the wind up radio.

Chapter 12: Pleebcrawl

How Jimmy was recruited by Crake.  After his mother’s death, Jimmy was not feeling too positive about things. He was slacking off at work and his love life suffered. He believed that he was being exploited by everyone.

Crake: “Nobody wants to be sexless, but nobody wanted to be nothing but sex.”

Crake visited Jimmy at his house and talked about his mother’s death. “Understandable, it was on brainfrizz. Inciting to violence, membership in a banned organization, hampering the dissemination of commercial products, treasonable crimes against society. I guess that last was the demos she was in. Throwing bricks or something. Too bad, she was a nice lady.”

Crake invites Jimmy to visit the pleeblands. They have to take an all purpose vaccine before they go. Pleeblands are full of hot bioforms, those who live there are pretty much immune but the compound population is not.

“The air was worse in the pleeblands, he said. More junk blowing in the wind, fewer whirlpool purifying towers dotted around.” – On air pollution.

Pleeblands are thickly populated.

The Street of Dreams – a genetic engineering destination that can do anything  including altering your body in any imaginable way and also can design children.

While on the visit, Crake offered Jimmy a job at Rejoovenesence.


Jimmy at RejoovenEsence. Cannot come to terms with the infrastructure, the money that has been sunk into building Crake’s Paradice. “What pays for this?” he asks – Crake: “Grief in the face of inevitable death. The wish to stop time, the human condition.”

Konga-lamb – like chickie nobs – kangaroo and lamb.

Crake says: What we are working on is immortality. BlyssPluss – a pill that is prophylactic in nature, that provides immunity against all known diseases, increases libido and also sterilizes you.  “eliminate the external causes of death and you were halfway there” – (to immortality).

The proper study of Mankind is Man.

BlyssPluss was based on animal testing on bonobo monkeys and chimps. There have been failures – people have died – scapegoats – people who are drawn from the poor or from other countries.

Crake: “We (the human race) is running out of space-time.”

Reveals that Paradice is actually MaddAddam – Jimmy is the head honcho. He has recruited all those who had been engaged in ecotage against the Compounds – made a private compound out of them. “What really counted in a research facility was the quality of the brains.”

The people at Paradice are reverential to Crake.  All of them, all of MaddAddam are ‘splice geniuses’.

Reading Oryx and Crake. Day 4. Pages 259 to 305

Reading Oryx and Crake. Day Four:

Hike (259) Snowman embarks on his expedition to the Compounds. Retrieve weapons and food.

Descriptions of the ruined city – the abandoned cars and bikes. Testament to the chaos of the end days.

The buildings are bing taken over by vegetation. Snowman muses that if he’d not made the trip now, it would have been impossible to find his way in just a few more months. All traces of civilzation are slowly being erased.

Once civilization has crumbled, if at all anybody survived, they and their descendants would be hard put to explain how the great buildings and other remnants had ever been built. They would say that this was the work of the gods or demons.

Crake says that once society is destroyed it could not be rebuilt. (261).

“Once it is flattened, it could never be rebuilt.”

“Because all the available surface metals have already been mined,” said Crake. “Without which, no iron age, no bronze age, no age of steel, and all the rest of it. There’s metals farther down, but the advanced technology we need for extracting those would have been obliterated.”

“It could be put back together,” said Jimmy…. “They’d still have the instructions.”

“Actually not,” said Crake. “It’s not like the wheel, it’s too complex now. Suppose the instructions survived, suppose there were any people left with the knowledge to read them. Those people would be few and far between, and they wouldn’t have the tools. Remember, no electricity. The once those people died, that would be it. They’d have no apprentices, they’d have no successors…”

“All it takes,” said Crake, “is the elimination of one generation. One generation of anything. Beetles, trees, microbes, scientists, speakers of French, whatever. Break the link in time between one generation and the next, and it’s game over forever.”

Snowman muses on his death. He will not be mourned by the Crakers. They’d think that he’d gone to be with Crake. He’d end up as one of the minor figures in their pantheon. – “a backup demiurge”.

Snowman feels worthless.

“Maybe he’s not the Abominable Snowman after all. Maybe he’s the other kind of snowman, the grinning dope set up as a joke and pushed down as an entertainment, his pebble smile and carrot nose an invitation to mockery and abuse. Maybe that’s the real him, the last Homo sapiens – a white illusion of a man, here today, gone tomorrow, so easily shoved over, left to melt in the sun, getting thinner and thinner until he liquefies and trickles away altogether As Snowman is doing now.” (263)

Snowman has reached the compounds. CryoJeenyus – a compound specializing in the preservation of the heads of genius millionaires in the hope that they can be resuscitated by some future technology. Well, they didn’t count on the world ending.

RejoovenEsence (266)

Snowman has reached his erstwhile compound. He sees Crake’s “charmed dome” in the distance – Paradice – ((very reminiscent of Kubla Khan, the stately pleasure dome!))

“The whole world is now one vast uncontrolled experiment – the way it always was, Crake would’ve said – and the doctrine of unintended consequences is in full spate.”

He raids a residence.

Dead bodies – one in the bathroom. “Strange, thinks Snowman, how in an emergency a lot of people would head for the bathroom.”

This house belonged to a copywriter – or something of the sort – like himself. A word man. The disease – we still don’t know details of it – caught them unawares – they seem to have died hardly any sooner than they realized that they’d been infected.

Twister (275)

Snowman comes across a group of pigoons and tries to escape from them however the pigoons are intelligent enough to try to ambush him. Snowman reasons that this may be due to the fact that some pigoons at least may have human neocortex tissue in their brains.

An approaching twister – freak weather. Snowman seeks shelter in the security enclosure.

Vulturizing (283)

Back to the past. Jimmy after graduation. Living in with an artists Amanda Payne – she creates living sculptures – lays out meat in the shape of words – it attracts vultures and when the words are entirely formed by vultures, she photographs the whole scene from a helicopter – Vulture Sculptures – vulturizing – it brought words to life and then killed them.

The pleeblanders Jimmy lives with have no high opinion of him. They have no high opinion of anything that is associated with the compounds, especially science. They say that Agriculture was teh beginning of human extinction – a gigantism followed by extinction.

Humans exchange short time gain for logntime pain. Soon, the earth would have nothing on it and all humans would be reduced to crawling through subterranean tunnels with artificial air and light, being fed other humans (chosen at random and ground up by machines) through appendages in the tubes. A self sustaining system.

Jimmy lands a job at AnooYoo – produces self-help products. Regarded as cesspool denizens who existed for no other reason than to prey on the phobias and void the bank accounsts of the anxious and the gullible.

AnooYoo (291)

Sometimes he’d invent words like tensicity, fibraciounous, pheromonimal etc which would be appreciated for their scientific ring.

His father would sometimes send him cards – he and Ramona are trying to conceive, artificially if nothing works out naturally. Artificial means designer babies. They’d try out a few babies and find one that fits their specifications. Others would be recycled.

Meanwhile the pleeblands had become ultra hazardous.

Garage (296)

Crake landed a job at RejoovenEsence – one of the biggest biotech companies. They gave him carte blanche for his research.

Uncle Pete died – of a virus. Jimmy may suspect Crake had a part in this.

Jimmy is increasingly lonely. He switches back to watching pornos – trying to find something or the other of interest.

He pays attention to sex scandals, one of which involves little girls who’d be locked up in garages and exploited as sex slaves. He sees Oryx – a girl liberated from San Francisco. She refused to say anything bad about her Mister – she says she wants to study child psychology.

Gripless (301)

The CorpSeCorps continued to interrogate Jimmy at intervals. Did not give up even after he got his own job. They showed up after a while and showed him images – trying to provoke a response. Could not lie – hooked up to lie detectors. In his 5th year at AnooYoo, they showed him a video of an execution – of his mother.

Last words “Goodbye. Remember Killer. I love you. Don’t let me down.”

Jimmy became depressed after this. Alcoholism etc.

The Great Indifference of the Universe weighed him down. He thought that the entire universe was like a great white shark with row after row of razor-sharp teeth.

Day 3: Reading Oryx and Crake, Pages 200 – 256.

SoYummie — Jimmy and Crake Graduate from HelthWyzer compound school.

Climate change has been going on for a long time. Watson-Crick institute is the most reputed institute. Much like Harvard of old, which has drowned.

Crake was one of the students who were bid for by Watson-Crick. Jimmy got into a humanities/liberal arts school, The Martha Graham Academy.

Crake’s mother is getting older and therefore is a potential customer of Nooskins BeauToxique Treatment, Fountain of Yooth Total Plunge – which peels of the entire skin.

Jimmy’s dad got married to Ramona.

(206) “From now on he was going to be fancy-free, doing whatever he liked, picking globes of ripe life off the life trees, taking a bite or two, sucking out the juice, throwing away the rinds.” – Jimmy on leaving the care of his parental units.

Crake’s mother died a month before his graduation. Infected by a hot bioform. A transgenetic staph mixed with some gene from the slime mould family. She dissolved.

Crake wasn’t able to hear her last words to him because a mic had failed. It didn’t bother him or he pretended not to be bothered by it, he was trying to keep up his dignity.

(209) Happicuppa

Vacation after graduation. Spent at a gated vacation community belonging to HelthWyzer. During this time, the “gen-mod coffee wars” were going on. Happicuppa coffee bean, all beans ripened simultaneously – seriously undercut traditional growers. Protests worldwide, escalated, almost wars. Shootings, kidnappings, riots. Peasants massacred by armies. Crake not pleased as the companies were nuking cloud forests to plant happicuppa. “This was history in the making.” Boston Coffee Party etc.

On a televised report of one of these riots, Jimmy spots his mother in the crowd among the rioters.

Point of convergence between Jimmy and Crake – Crake’s father had been a top researcher – a conscientious guy – who is said to have committed suicide by jumping off a bridge on to traffic. Jimmy’s mom and Crake’s dad were very similar in their beliefs. “…he was head in the clouds. He believed in contributing to the improvement of the human lot.”

About Snowman: “He had grown up in walled spaces, and then he had become one. He had shut things out.”

(217) Applied Rhetoric

Both leave for their academies. Life at Martha Graham institute. Far from satisfactory. Obsolete, underfunded, tumble-down. Did not take themselves seriously. Tolerated plagiarism etc. From pure arts, the focus of the academy had changed to practical disciplines.

Probably what is soon going to happen to all liberal arts schools.

Webgame Dynamics, Pictorial and Plastic Arts (PicPlArts), Image Presentation etc.

Jimmy majored in Problematics – aka – Spin and Grin. “Decorating the clold, hard, numerical world in flossy 2-D verbiage.”

Relationships – Jimmy had a number of them, the template being that he would come across as flawed and the women would try to mend him – to no effect – after which he himself would orchestrate their decampment along the line of him being unfixable and hence a millstone around their necks and so forth.

Jimmy put on an air of melancholy. He used his mother as a sob story.

Only Oryx had not been impressed by this. “She refused to feel what he wanted her to feel. Was that the hook – that he could never get from her what the others had given him so freely? Was that her secret?” (225)

(226) Asperger’s U

Crake and Jimmy had kept in touch through email. Crake’s view of love – a clinically scientific perspective – “ Falling in love, although it resulted in altered body chemistry and was therefore real, was a hormonally induced delusional state, according to him. In addition it was humiliating, because it put you at a disadvantage, it gave the love object too much power.”

Neurotypicals – people with normal/typical intelligence. The others had the genius gene. Watson-Crick full of these geniuses.

But at the same time, they displayed social ineptitude, high tolerance for mildly deviant public behaviour. Brilliant weirdos – demi-autistic.

This conforms to certain typical representations of scientists as social misfits.

In the pleeblands there was “no life of the mind.”

Crake was a student of Transgenics

Wolvogs (234) – Jimmy’s visit to Crake’s university

Mascot of Watson-Crick Institute – Spoat/Gider – goat spider splice – high tensile spider silk filaments in goat milk – used for bullet proof vests.

Institute full of engineered organisms – bioforms. Artificial rocks that soak up water during the rains and release it during drought. Used as lawn regulators – Rockulators. Wallpaper that changes colour according to the owner’s mood, bathtowels that do the same. All the glitches had not been resolved yet.

NeoAgriculturals – AgriCouture – ChickieNobs – headless chickens which expeditiously grew wings or legs or breasts – could be harvested. Had no heads, just a mouth at the centre of the body, no brain functions. Like a chicken hookworm.

BioDefences – Wolvogs – wolf and dogs – very vicious – can deceive people into liking them but are brutal. Bred for the CorpseCorps.

Nature is to zoos and God is to Churches.

A zoo is designed to contain nature. A Church is built to contain god and thereby protect humans from His/Her/Its influence.

Jimmy musing on these bioforms – “He wasn’t paying close attention, he was worrying about the ChickieNobs and the Wolvogs. Why is it he feels some line has been crossed, some boundary transgressed? How much is too much, how far is too far?” (242)

Crake doesn’t believe in God. Neither does he believe in Nature with a capital N. Nature is not sacred to him.

Hypothetical (243)

Crake runs a hypothesis by Jimmy. Companies like HelthWyzer profit from healing. Once they have healed every disease out there, they will need either more sick people or new diseases. These diseases were being engineered by they themselves. They’d put the bioforms into vitamin pills and other products.

“Ideally the patient should either get well or die just before all of his or her money runs out. It’s a fine calculation.” (248)

“This would be really evil,” said Jimmy (248)

Crake’s father knew and was about the blow the whistle. He told his wife and his friend Pete and was subsequently eliminated to safeguard the interests of HelthWyzer.

Extinctathon (251)

On their last day – of Jimmy’s visit to Watson-Crick, Crake invites him to play extinctathon, their old game. Crake is now a grandmaster in the game. But the game is actually a portal to an online forum/group who state ecological terrorist strikes – ecotage. They are trying to take down the whole system by turning the technologies of gene splicing against companies like HelthWyzer.

MaddAddam is a group/groups.

What upsets Jimmy most is that Crake has used the picture of Oryx that he had seen as a child as his key to this forum. He must click on Oryx’s left eye to gain access to this forum.

“A tiny parasitic wasp had invaded several ChickieNobs installations, carrying a modified

form of chickenpox, specific to the ChickieNob and fatal to it. The installations had to be incinerated before the epidemic could be brought under control.

A new form of the common house mouse addicted to the insulation on electric wiring had overrun Cleveland, causing an unprecedented number of house fires. Control measures were still being tested.

Happicuppa coffee bean crops were menaced by a new bean weevil found to be resistant to all known pesticides.

A miniature rodent containing elements of both porcupine and beaver had appeared in the Northwest, creeping under the hoods of parked vehicles and devastating their fan belts and transmission systems.

A microbe that ate the tar in asphalt had turned several interstate highways to sand. All interstates were on alert, and a quarantine belt was now in place.”

Every night, Crake would cry out in his sleep. He was having nightmares. But he would never remember them.

“So Crake never remembered his dreams. It’s Snowman that remembers them instead. Worse than remembers: he’s immersed in them, he’d been wading through them, he’d stuck in them. Every moment he’s liven in the past few months was dreamed first by Crake. No wonder Crake screamed so much.”


On Human Ingenuity

The sky darkens from ultramarine to indigo. God bless the namers of oil paints and high-class women’s underwear, Snowman thinks. Rose-Petal Pink, Crimson Lake, Sheer Mist, Burnt Umber, Ripe Plum, Indigo, Ultramarine — they are fantasies in themselves, such words and phrases. It’s comforting to remember that Homo sapiens sapiens was once so ingenious with language, and not only with language. Ingenious in every direction at once.
Monkey brains had been Crake’s opinion. Monkey paws, monkey curiosity, the desire to take apart, turn inside out, smell, fondle, measure, improve, trash, discard — all hooked up to monkey brains, an advanced model of monkey brains but monkey brains all the same. Crake had no very high opinion of human ingenuity, despite the large amount of it he himself possessed.

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

The more we eat…

“…Homo sapiens doesn’t seem able to cut himself off at the supply end. He’s one of the few species that doesn’t limit reproduction in the face of dwindling resources. In other words – and up to a point, of course – the less we eat, the more we fuck.’
‘How do you account for that?’ said Jimmy.
‘Imagination,’ said Crake, ‘Men can imagine their own deaths, they can see them coming, and the mere thought of impending death acts like an aphrodisiac. A dog or a rabbit doesn’t behave like that. Take birds – in a lean season they cut down on the eggs, or they don’t mate at all. They put their energy into staying alive themselves until times get better. But human beings hope they can stick their souls into someone else, some new version of themselves, and live on forever.’
‘As a species we’re doomed by hope then?’
‘You could call it hope. That, or desperation.’
‘But we’re doomed without hope, as well,’ said Jimmy.
‘Only as individuals,’ said Crake cheerfully.
‘Well, it sucks.

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

Reading ‘Oryx and Crake’: Day 2

Moving along with Oryx and Crake, here’s my notes and thoughts on the second leg of the book; from pages 94 to 200.

We see Jimmy and Crake growing up. The story details how they’re exposed to the unfiltered brutality of this world. Their excuse is that it isn’t real. Watching something on a screen doesn’t make it less real, especially now that screens have become an indispensable part of reality. The sites they frequent are extrapolations of the pornographic and violence-peddling, terrorist propaganda vending sites that are familiar to us. Snuff sites, NoodieNews,, middle east executions : Crake seems to be unaffected by any moral questions that might occur to one consuming these things, but Jimmy is not so callous. (electrocutions – executions)

Assisted suicide websites

Crake says all these incidents are bogus. Jimmy digs up old words like ‘awesome’ and ‘bogus’ and makes it a part of their vocabulary.

Anna K – installation artist who live streamed her entire life. Like the Truman Show.

Jimmy was introduced to Macbeth (Shakespeare) via Anna K.

This is the age of the body, as distinct from the soul or the mind.

There is a cult of the body. Executions are its tragedies and pornography is its romance.

What is striking here is the modernity of the story. Although this is supposed to be a post-apocalyptic story, it isn’t that far away in the future and it all seems so tantalizingly possible today or tomorrow.

Crake connects to the internet over his uncle’s (step father) account. He sets up something like a tor onion network not to be traced. A lillypad labyrinth he calls it. Crake’s uncle is a bigwig at HelthWyzer.

(101) HottTotts

Crake’s mother is always in an unseeing, unfeeling stupor. She is a diagnostician but she doesn’t care about what has become of her son or those he associates with.

Crake decides what porn they watch. It is Crake’s computer that they use and Jimmy doesn’t get much of a say.

Tart of the Day, Superswallowers, HottTotts – sex trotting site – sex tourism. Chronicles the sexcapades of white men in the far east.

It is on a video streamed from HottTotts that Jimmy first sees Oryx. ‘Small boned, exquisite and naked’.

Jimmy was struck by how she looked straight into the camera as if she could see who was watching her. Made Jimmy feel that what he was doing was very wrong.

Later, Jimmy would ask Oryx if she was thinking anything. “I may not have been thinking anything.”

(109) Chapter 5 Toast.

Back to Snowman’s present. It’s evening and Snowman is hungry. He sees a glowing rabbit – gene spliced.

He can’t kill it because he has decreed to the Children of Crake that rabbits belong to the Children of Oryx and are sacred to Oryx herself.

He laid down their mythologies. He needs to maintain internal consistency within these myths.

The children had asked him what ‘toast’ is. “Toast is something very very bad”. “Toast is me. I am toast.”

(114) Fish. “It is comforting to remember that homo sapiens sapiens was once so ingenious with language, and not only with language. Ingenious in every direction at once.

The Children of Crake – the women are of every colour and perfect in every way. Their perfection renders them unattractive to Snowman. They bring a fish to him every week – accordint o his instruction that they ought to do so.

Crakers do not have to hunt. They can survive on plants. But Snowman cannot.

Crake was against the notion of God. So, in order to spite him, Snowman has deified him in his stories.

(122) Bottle. Snowman consumes his alcohol reserves. He feels excluded from the society of the Crakers. They sing in communion with each other.

For the first few months, he got drunk every night.

He feels that his evolutionary purpose has been served – he has saved the children. Now he is an atavism, a throwback or a exile.

He rues the loss of household pets – strays killed by Wolvogs for food.

Snowman pines for Oryx.

Oryx’s past.

Snowman conjures up Oryx’s presence – a construction out of the mishmash of memory that he has left. “How long had it taken him to piece her together from the slivers of her he’d gathered an hoarded so carefully?”

Oryx has a hymenoptera face, a mantid face.

Was a sold as a child. Born when Jimmy was 7,8 or 9. Identity is difficult to determine. Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam or Cambodia. She cannot remember her native language. She was sold by her mother along with her brother after her father died of a lung disease. “The girls were sold in preference to boys. “The girls would only get married and make more girls”.

Their selling was traumatic for the mothers, so they tried to disguise the transaction as apprenticeship. The girls would be taken away to the city where they’d be paid wages which they could choose to sent back to their families or not. Initial lump sum would be paid to the families. No money was ever sent back by the children.

Crake was not outraged by the fact that such trade existed. He has an explanation for it. “Homo sapiens is the only species which doesn’t limit reproduction in the face of dwindling resources… the less we eat, the more we fuck.”

The reason, says Crake, is because human being can imagine their own mortality, they see the end coming and in a desperate bid wants to live on through their children.

The person who bought Oryx from her mother is Uncle En.

Oryx imagines that the bird call she hears as she travels from village to city is her mother’s spirit following her in a sort of astral projection. Jimmy is angry at Oryx’s mother but Oryx feels only love – especially because she’d sold her along with her brother so that they may be together.

(148) Roses

Oryx was given a new name, SusU and send to sell flowers to tourists. She was the smallest of the lot, an angelic doll. If the boys were no good selling flowers, they would be sold to white men who loved little boys, they would become ‘melon bum boys’. Sexual exploitation. Oryx was used as bait to trap and blackmail men who’d want to have sex with her.

Eventually Uncle En is killed.

Oryx was sold to a man who made pornographic movies. Oryx learned that everything has a price. In the movie industry they were supposed to be pure looking and hence washed a lot. They weren’t given any hard drugs but were allowed beer. The cameraman – Jack.

In exchange for sex, Jack taught Oryx to read and talk English.

Jimmy wants to know what Jack did to her, he is furious and he wouldn’t let go of questioning Oryx till she had told him what happened to her.

“Crake is right,” said Oryx “You do not have an elegant mind.”

(162) Pixieland

The movie studio was called Pixieland.

(173) Svetlana. Chapter named after – Svetlana no-meat Cocktail sausages – baby’s turds – the food supplement Snowman eats. Snowman is hungry for protein. His diet lacks it, his muscles are atrophying. He has already scavenged and exhausted everything within a day’s walking distance. To go further he would have to stay out at night and that means that he’d be attacked by Wolvogs. He doesn’t have a gun.

“I used to be erudite.” What are all those things that he once thought he knew and where have they gone?”

Before resorting to eating bugs, Snowman will go to the Rejoovenesence Compound. This is the ground zero of what has happened to Snowman’s world.

“Once they’d known what is going on, the inhabitants had fled.” Crake’s bubble dome – Paradice – contains sprayguns – somekinda futuristic weapon.

(182) Before he leaves, he must tell the Crakers. The crakers can heal wounds by purring. Like canids, mustelids etc. Also they use scent marking – males urinate around their camp twice a day, keeps out predators. Wolvogs, pigoons, rakunks, and bobkittens.

Crake eliminated the G spot in the brain. “God is a cluster of neurons”.

Crakers have accelerated growth. They do not have a lengthy childhood. They produce and consume caecotrophs – semi digested food discharged anally and reconsumed. Jimmy wanted Crake to get rid of this feature because it was aesthetically displeasing. Crake did not concede.

Purely aesthetic objections ought not be considered.

(192) Blue – Snowman is on his way.

Craker’s courtship and mating. (194) Crake has made the whole thing into a kind of sport. There is no more love, requited or not.

Crake quoted Byron to justify his ends – The Devil may quote scripture.

Crake was at the Watson-Crick Institute.

Female artists are biologically confused. [[Who was it, among Watson or Crick who controversially referred to female scientists?]]

Snowman is feeling alone, “Where is my bride of Frankenstein?”


     When did the body first set out on its own adventures? Snowman thinks; after having ditched its old travelling companions, the mind and the soul, for whom it had once been considered a mere corrupt vessel or else a puppet acting out their dramas for them, or else bad company, leading the other two astray. it must have got tired of the soul’s constant nagging and whining and the anxiety-driven intellectual web-spinning of the mind, distracting it whenever it was getting its teeth into something juicy or its fingers into something good. It had dumped the other two back there somewhere, leaving them stranded in some damp sanctuary or stuffy lecture hall while it made a beeline for the topless bars, and it had dumped culture along with them: music and painting and poetry and plays. Sublimation, all of it; nothing but sublimation, according to the body. Why not cut to the chase?

     But the body had its own cultural forms. It had its own art. Executions were its tragedies, pornography was its romance. 

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, 97-98

Mary Shelley and the Birth of SF – Gary K Wolfe. Lecture 1.

I’ve started listening to a lecture series by Gary K Wolfe on SF. Here’s a few jottings from the first lecture.

  • SF has grown more respectable and more misunderstood.
  • Literary writers trying their hand at SF: Doris Lessing, Philip Roth, John Updike. William Golding, Rudyard Kipling.
  • SF lit has never been widely popular or bestselling.
  • At the movies though, SF rules the roost. One of the top grossing genres.
  • Reason is probably thatspecial effects have a wide popular appeal.
  • Hollywood SF movies run 3 or 4 decades behind current literary SF. Exceptions are movies like Bladerunner. A movie that has influenced how writers think about future cities.
  • Dragons in SF. Anne McCaffrey, Michael Swanick. But their dragons are not created by magic. They are dragons of science. SF dragons. Using speculations from known science.
  • SF “should be possible”.
  • Delaney. Realistic fiction is “what could’ve happened”, fantasy is “what could not have happened” and SF is “what has not happened yet”.
  • Damon Knight and Adam Roberts. Critics who have traced the origins of SF back to prehistory. Plato, Lucian of Samosata, Kepler’s short story Somnian. Bruno’s being burned at the stake the inception of SF. Cyrano de Bergerac.
  • SF in the modern sense arose as a consequence of the rise if science in the modern sense. And that happened in the 17th and 18th centuries.
  • The creation of monsters. Monsters are prehistoric. The Epic of Gilgamesh’s Humbaba, Beowulf and Grendel  etc but SF starts with monsters created by science.
  • The Law of Unintended Consequences
  • Hubris vs. Nemesis and Cautionary Tales.
  • Reasons for the Birth of the first work of SF: a dead frog, a volcano and a teenage bride.
  • The dead frog – Galvani passed electricity through the leg of a dead frog inducing a muscle contraction.
  • The volcano – Mt Tambora erupted in 1815 lowering worldwide temperatures so much so that 1816 was called the year without summer.
  • The teenage bride was Mary Shelley, wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was vacationing post marriage with her husband and friends, Polidori and Byron at Byron’s mansion on the continent. The weather was so terrible that they were confined indoors and embarked on a ghost story writing competition. Shelley wrote a fragment of poetry, Polidori wrote a story called The Vampire which would later inspire Bram Stoker and Mary wrote the first draft of Frankenstein.
  • Victor Frankenstein’s creation is not one of magic or divinity – it is of science – of the day.
  • Brian Aldiss claims Mary Shelley as the mother of the genre.
  • Young Victor’s education – in natural philosophy was followed by a shift to modern science.
  • More than 50 film adaptations of it. First in 1910, the most famous in 1931 starring Boris Karloff. I, Frankenstein (2014) – one of the worse ones, 3% on RT.
  • Herbert J Muller: SF is about technological solutions and the loss of values.
  • SF is about the possible , given what we actually know.
  • But what do we know? Are scientists in agreement over what is known? Isn’t knowledge constantly being contested?