Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. Review by S.K. Slevinski

Book Cover

In Print
I am always interested to see how authors of predominantly mainstream fiction handle forays into science fiction. While Atwood has explored the speculative possibilities of the future in previous novels, she did not approach this novel with the acumen to tell a gripping tale.

The protagonist of this tale, Snowman, is perhaps the only remaining human on earth after climate change and genetic experimentation has obliterated the planet we once knew. Luckily for readers, this one human remains to observe the destruction and recall his life story in this heavily flashback-laden narrative. As a young man, then named Jimmy, our protagonist witnessed the rapid decline of humanity and the proliferation of hybrid animals—some of which were genetically blended with humans. Snowman/Jimmy is on the frontlines of both conflicts, right in the thick of it as his friend Crake constructs new races of man, and later acting as make-shift priest to a herd of Crake's creations on a bleak, post-apocalypse Earth.

Book Cover

On Audio
This story follows a very classic (and all too convenient) structure, allowing the protagonist to narrate for us the horrors of post-apocalypse earth while telling us simultaneously the harrowing tale of how man's ill-conceived plans sent the human race hurtling toward destruction. Well, harrowing in theory. What's more harrowing than the destruction of the human race, you ask? The trick with obliteration of life on earth is that the prospect of oneself and everyone one knows dying is much more compelling than the termination of the human race in the abstract... much as we all love the human race. In lieu of having to worry about one's own untimely demise due to planetary catastrophe, fiction must provide us with a substitute person, a character with whom we identify enough that the destruction of humanity seems near as compelling as if it were happening to us. This novel is too much about the over-arching concepts and not enough about the characters. In fact, the obvious "substitute me" for readers in this disaster scenario is the one person we know actually survives the apocalypse.

This novel lacks the character development needed to make the high concept apocalyptic scenario meaningful or interesting to readers. It is ultimately little more than a standard cautionary tale, the like of which science fiction readers have seen too many times already.


S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.