Oryx and Crake, a novel by Margaret Atwood, is one created in the familiar vein of a post-apocalyptic, ravaged world with its survivors meting out a stifled existence. Only this story involves Snowman, perhaps the last human being, left to guard a created humanoid tribe and with his memories of his two loves, Oryx and Crake.
Atwood plunges her reader in the midst of this world, a land full of the decaying skeletal remains of humanity, its triumph and its ruin. Now Snowman and previously Jimmy, the narrative shifts between the two iterations of one individual. Jimmy's genius best friend Crake and his "one true love" Oryx figure as the main characters in a world that reflects our own gradual creep--or perhaps deliberate movement?--into despair, corruption, and ruin. Rich scientists experiment with creating new life forms, anything from deadly viruses (bioforms used as weapons) to creating spliced animals, rakunks (raccoon and skunk), wolvogs (deceptively friendly wolf-dogs), pigoons (pigs engineered to grow human organs), and others. Crake works to create a new type of human, one without the impulses within us that lead to war, misery, and destruction so they can live without the same sexual misery, warfare, and religious anxieties that plague humanity currently.
There is an uneasiness to Atwood's description of the world, both in the easy acceptance of humans ability to play God, and sometimes the character's reactions to this meddling, especially as the meddling is done by corporations seeking to profit off of the desire to live forever, to cease to age, to be in a state of bliss. This tampering eventually leads to Snowman's creation and isolation, the Crakers he is asked to guard too simple and different to understand his condition.
Snowman makes a journey to the past and back, both back to his personal past and the place where he last sees Oryx and Crake, and the novel ends ambiguously as he finds that he is not the last of his kind, and stands poised to either greet them or destroy them. Perhaps Atwood leaves his future--and implicitly ours--in the hands of her reader, but the effect is powerful. Our world cannot continue on its current path and her dystopian vision is terrifying because of its feasibility. The novel's conclusion could serve to give us hope that we are not doomed--or it could assert that human nature will always keep us on our same, flawed track.
Erudite, interesting, and a little horrifying, Atwood recalls the same power of storytelling as The Handmaid's Tale, though perhaps not to the same effect. While Oryx and Crake lacks some of the narrative strength as her previous work, it nevertheless accomplishes its goals: to tell a story about a world that could be ours someday and fill readers with a mixture of hope and dread, and ask us to question our present reality.