Thursday, May 03, 2007

On the Nightstand
Oryx and Crake
I read Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale last year, and she immediately jumped up pretty high on my personal list of favorite authors. And now, after reading Oryx and Crake, she only keeps climbing. Just as The Handmaid's Tale showed us a dark vision of the near-future, with the details teased out in bits and pieces only, so does Oryx and Crake. But where the former focused on a future in which women's rights were all but stripped away completely, and the dark Fascist America in which that happened, the latter focuses on a world in which genetic experimentation and bio-engineering have been followed to what Atwood convinces us is an inevitable conclusion.

Atwood's explorations of her characters, especially Jimmy/Snowman, the central figure in her tale and the one who gives us, the audience, the story of how society fell is superb, as is her handling of the present/flashback structure. And I loved the world and story she has laid out - the concepts behind the Crakers (a new race of humans genetically engineered to be polyamorous non-violent herbivores), and the spliced-together new animal races (pigoons and wolvogs), and the way that mega-corporations have created a demarcated society even more split than the one we have now. But I did find myself wishing for some more vigor and detail behind the science, of the kind of fact-based, dryly scientific verisimilitude that someone like Kim Stanley Robinson brings to his near-future, based-on-real-science creations. There was a felling throughout of the science - and, given how dependent her world is on real scientific advances, the world Atwood was creating - being not completely real, not as finely textured and convincing as it could have been. In the end, this feeling was easily ignored, given the remarkable skill at hand in the other elements of the novel. But that faint whiff of "what if" was nonetheless there and present as I read.

Other minor faults? The romantic triangle angle, and Oryx herself, the distaff point of that triangle, were surprisingly underdeveloped, especially given the title. But, again, in the end, none of that really mattered, given how good what is focused on is. The character of Jimmy, who goes from smart-assed kid to unhinged, sheet-clad oracle is completely believable. And the self-centered, Aspergery genius character of Crake, whose hubris proves so devastatingly destructive, was likewise completely realized.

The bottom line is that the book grabbed and moved me like few others have, making me eager as can be to dive into another Atwood novel as soon as is feasible. Any suggestions? (I've read The Blind Assassin as well but no others save Oryx and Handmaid. ?

Until Whenever


Roger Green said...

Handmaid's tale - possibly the last novel I actually completed, and I was very fond, though I'm a NF kind of guy.

Tosy And Cosh said...

Handmaid is the best novel I've read in a long while. I'm sure I've told you to read The Known World, right?