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.

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