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.”

(256)

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, hedsoff.com, middle east executions : alibooboo.com. Crake seems to be unaffected by any moral questions that might occur to one consuming these things, but Jimmy is not so callous.

shortcircuit.com (electrocutions – executions) brainfrizz.com

Assisted suicide websites niteenite.com

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?”

Body

     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?

Beginning ‘Oryx and Crake’: Day One

Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy is one of my primary research texts and in order to get things moving in the right direction I’m starting with the first of it, Oryx and Crake today. I’ve read it once previously but that was quite a few years ago and I don’t remember much of it so this is going to be a fresh reading for me.

Let me just say that I’ve just finished quick reading through Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale yesterday and I don’t know if it is recommended that I jump straight away from one post-apocalypse to another. From what I’ve read so far, Oryx and Crake and The Handmaid’s Tale don’t have much in common, except that there’s a lot gone wrong with both worlds. While the catastrophe is political or ethical in one, it is scientific or technical in the other. I’ll be on the lookout for connections between these novels as I go along. Atwood’s style is the same in both though, and that’s not a bad thing. Not at all.

Day One: Notes and Scribbles

Snowman is our hero. Ironic that he spends his time in a tropical jungle though. He says he chose his name himself – after the abominable snowman, a myth, a cryptozoological creature – which he is, considering that he is the only human now. The last man left on earth premise. I think that’s been worked over quite a lot in science fiction. The book begins with a quote from Robinson Crusoe, and that gentleman belonged to the very same stock.

So this is going to be Snowman’s story. The story of how Jimmy became Snowman.

Although he is the last – conventional – human left on stage, we see other intelligent beings. Not faeries or demons but not ‘human’ either. These are the Children of Crake. Bioengineered transhumans. And they’re all children. Innocent as they come. And just as curious about the world. Snowman is a reluctant Guru to them. He doesn’t fit in with them. The world doesn’t fit in with him anymore. The world that died and left him alive.

The Children of Crake are post-racial. They have no inherited skin tones, they come in all hues. They have green eyes. They are utterly lacking in experience. They do not know history although the landscape they inhabit is strewn with its remnants. Snowman advises them as to what is dangerous and what is not.

It is strange that language has endured. They can communicate with Snowman without much difficulty. Is it possible for language to exist when the lived experience behind it has been extinguished? Anyway, the Children are making new myths and lores to account for Snowman too; why he has “feathers” on his face.

“Alone on a wide, wide sea.” – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – another literary character burdened with knowledge that has ostracized him from any society.

Interesting Quote (page 12): “So many crucial events take place behind peoples backs, when they aren’t in a position to watch: birth and death for instance. And the temporary oblivion of sex.”

Snowman pines for Oryx. A mysterious woman. For whom Snowman was very jealous.

Snowman blames Crake for everything: “You did this!”

Chapter 2: Bonfire – Snowman’s childhood – Five year old Jimmy recounts his earliest memory, that of pigoons and cows (transgenic) being burned after being killed by a disease. A gruesome memory but Jimmy was too young to know the seamy side of it. We get to see a bit about his extremely dysfunctional parents. They don’t get along. They fight – though they try to keep it from Jimmy, they aren’t too earnest about it. Both Jimmy’s parents are scientists – Genographers at OrganInc Farms – but his mother gave up her work because a) she lost faith in what she was doing and b) supposedly Jimmy needed her attention full time.

We see Jimmy’s mother – Sharon – as  a woman scientist – always trying to teach Jimmy how to be rational, precise, logical. But we see her as having given up that way of life. The way of science. There is conflict within her – she is riled by the questionable ethical nature of what she does.

What do they do? Create pigoons. Sus multiorganifer. “The goal of the pigoon project was to grow an assortment of foolproof human tissue organs in a transgenic knockout pig host 0 organs that would transplant smoothly and avoid rejection, but would also be able to fend off attacks by opportunistic microbes and viruses of which there were more every year”.

Sharon worked to improve the immunity of these artificial organs.

Meanwhile, Jimmy’s dad is warming up to an affair with Ramona, an assistant at his work.

Sharon becomes distant over time. Not caring. Even her anger becomes blunted. The life seems to have drained out of her.

They live in gated communities or colonies called compounds administered by the companies they work for. These are safe and affluent environments, when compared with the chaotic mess the outside world has become following a spate of political and natural calamities. The pleeblands as the outside world is known is an anarchic crumbling mess while the compounds carry on a semblance of order within them. Jimmy and his dad joke about how these compounds are like castles of old and how they are now the Dukes and Kings.

A mercenary group called CorpSeCorps handles security at these compounds.

Jimmy’s father: “There was too much hardware around, said Jimmy’s father. Too much hardware, too much software, too many kinds of hostile bioforms, too many weapons of every kind. And too much envy and fanaticism and bad faith. (32)

The disconnect between Jimmy and his mother – in Chapter “Lunch”. Jimmy cannot tolerate indifference – becomes a rebellious child to get his mother to react to him.

“As he grew older and more devious, he found that on the days when he couldn’t grab some approval he could at least get a reaction. Anything was better than the flat voice, the blank eyes, the fixed staring out the window”.

Chapter 3:

Narrative heads back to the present. Snowman tries to make friends with a rakunk. Raccoon and Skunk spliced together. Created as a hobby. Remembers the rakunk that he’d received as a birthday gift from his dad.

Snowman: ” He has to find more and better ways of occupying his time. His time , what a bankrupt idea, as if he’s been given a box of time belonging to him alone, stuffed to the brim with hours and minutes that he alone can spend like money. Trouble is – the box has holes in it and the time is running out, no matter what he does with it.”

Snowman doesn’t want to preserve anything – he is not going to write down his post-apocalyptic experience like Offred did (Offred is the protagonist of The Handmaid’s Tale and she recorded her story on cassette tapes). He knows it doesn’t matter because he has no future readers, the Children of Crake are illiterate. So, this is a world from which reading and writing has passed away completely.

Chapter 4: Here we get to see young Jimmy again as a 10 year old whose birthdays are regularly forgotten by both his parents. He is a completely neglected child. Probably the worst thing that can happen to a child, imho. Reminds me of Harry Potter, somewhat, although in his case, it was his foster parents who did the neglecting.

After his dad forgets his birthday, Jimmy gets a rakunk as a gift on the next day – as compensation. Jimmy names her Killer – he couldn’t name her Bandit like he wanted to because his mother suggested that name and he just couldn’t go along with what mother would want for him – it would be against his rebellious nature.

We learn that Jimmy’s dad has switched over to another compound; of HealthWyzer taking Jimmy and his mom along. His mom seems to be being ground down by all this. Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

New compound, tighter security. The scientists are under surveillance to guard against industrial espionage. They seem to have given up a lot of their freedoms to be where they are – in the Compounds. We hear about instances of industrial espionage in the form of biological warfare undertaken by one company/compound against another. The world is being fragmented into warring city states.

Jimmy’s dad reports the success of an experiment to replicate human neocortex tissue in pigs. Replacement brains grown in pigs. Sharon finds this ludicrous: – “There’s research and there’s research. It’s immoral, it’s sacrilegious”. Dad: “There is nothing sacred about cells and tissues”.

Jimmy’s family seems to be falling apart and he want to witness the final collapse – if there is to be one. Ironic, as later he is the last human left – a witness to a global collapse.

(67). Jimmy is a jokester at school. He makes little finger puppets and stages shows featuring “Evil Dad” and “Righteous Mother”, caricatures of his parents.

His mother runs away, leaving him a note saying that she was taking Killer along to liberate her. Jimmy was more upset about her taking Killer than leaving him.

Ramona moves in.

(79) Before Sharon ran away, Jimmy had met Crake. A transfer student to his class. Jimmy’s mother liked Crake – respected him for being rational and “more adult than a lot of adults” and his ability to carry on an objective conversation.”Your friend is intellectually honourable”.

Crake’s real name is Glenn.

(87) Jimmy and Crake are into video games. One of the games they like is called Extinctathon where you have to guess the names of recently extinct animals. There are a lot of them. The players names are also those of extinct animals. Jimmy chose the name Thickney and Crake was named after the Red-necked Crake.

Other games they played: Barbarian Stomp, Blood and Roses (in which human achievements and human misadventures would be pitted against each other).

 

Alright, so this takes me up to page 93 of the novel on the first day of reading it.  More soon. Ciao.

Preface

Hi!

A couple of words on who I am and what this blog is. I am Aravind R Nair, a research scholar at The Institute of EnglishUniversity of Kerala, India. My field is Literature or more specifically science fiction. I’m starting out on a research project (leading to my PhD, hopefully) where I’ll be trying to understand if and how fictional scientists and fictional science are like real scientists and real science.

The period of my study will be two years from 2017 to 2019 during which time I’m on leave from my teaching position at Sacred Heart College, Thevara. I live in Aroor and am married to Sindhuja who is a teacher as well (of Economics). My son, Achu, is two and loves dinosaurs and elephants. 😀

I’m starting this blog to keep track of what I’m reading on a day to day basis and to just hold my thoughts in cache till I can get them down in a more permanent/polished version. I’m not expecting any readers beside myself and I don’t suppose I’ll be sharing links to this site anywhere. But I don’t want to keep my work under wraps either, in the interest of being open access. So in case, you stumble upon this, thanks to some search engine or keyword or just because you typed in some random url which happened to be mine, do drop me a line and we’ll talk.

Regards,

Aravind R. Nair