Take note, all you would-be writers of dystopian fiction. This is how it’s done.
I have to say that what I loved most about Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood, 2003) is that, for much of it, I didn’t know what was going on. Sure, I knew that we had ended up in some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland, that a lone human named Snowman (née Jimmy) tended to childish creatures somehow related to the God-like Crake, that there was some sort of forlorn love between Snowman and Oryx. Beyond that it’s a mystery and it’s a beautiful one to unfold.
To summarize Oryx and Crake would be to rob it of the joy of being read. Atwood doesn’t immediately let on where we are in this world and how it’s gotten to be the way it is. You have to trust her as an author and she has to trust you as a reader, that you will put your faith in her, that she does not need to explain things immediately, directly, that you are bright enough and ardent enough to go on the journey with her. It is so refreshing to read an intelligent author who writes for an intelligent audience. Even 300 pages in, I was not exactly sure what was going on with this world, but I loved watching Atwood reveal it all. I’m certain I’ll need to read it again, and knowing that there’s so much to be picked up in those earlier pages will make that reread so rewarding.
That said, Atwood is brilliantly adept at skewering popular culture. She describes the websites a young Jimmy and Crake watch for fun – “hedsoff.com” which displayed live coverage of execution and “alibooboo.com” where one could watch alleged thieves having their hands cut off and adulterers being stoned to death in the Middle East – with Crake saying that “these blood fests were probably taking place on a back lot somewhere in California with a bunch of extras rounded up off the streets.” As horrific as that sounds, how eerily similar it is to our 24-hour news coverage of bombings and shootings and stabbings, where the bloodier it is, the more pornographic the violence, the higher ratings they are sure to garner. Atwood has a knack for taking situations one step beyond the realm of credibility, only to have you realize that she is describing exactly what is happening today.
The loss of libraries, the devaluation of education, the extinction of species, the tinkering with biological warfare – all these heavy subjects that we assure ourselves will never happen come into play here. I don’t know how Atwood so masterfully captures both the bravado and cowardice of our culture and forms them into such an engrossing read, but I am so thankful that such wonderful writers exist, who make us despair and doubt and, most importantly, think about where we fall in such a world. We have only ourselves to see in this story and the reflection is as frightening as can possibly be imagined.
[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel]