Michael's Reviews > Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
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's review
Jul 22, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: 2000s, fiction-that-speculates, most-popular-reviews
Read from July 22 to 28, 2010

So, you go to Wal-Mart to buy your groceries because it's so damn cheap, but then you realize Wal-Mart is hiring very few full-time employees and not offering reasonable health care to its employees and it's walking employees through the process of how to get Medicare, not to mention they're closing down small businesses by exploiting foreign economies to get the lowest possible fucking cost; so, Wal-Mart's making YOU pay medical benefits for ITS employees, and replacing good jobs with shitty ones, and you don't want to support that, not to mention most of their food comes from the big corporations that have copyrighted their grains and are in the process of pushing small farms out of business by suing them for copyright infringement after their seeds blow onto the smaller farmer's land, so you decide to shop somewhere else, and isn't it time to go organic anyway, so you drive over to Trader Joe's and load up your cart, that feeling of guilt finally subsiding.

So you get home and you unload your reusable bags and load up the fridge and then, as you slide a boxed pizza into the freezer, you see, printed across the bottom, "Made in Italy."

So now, you're shopping for your groceries at a different store from where you do the rest of your shopping, adding to your carbon footprint, not to mention they're transporting your pizzas across half the fucking earth before they land on your shelf. So, you may not be selling out your next door neighbor, but now you're shitting a big one right on Mother Earth's face.

You head down to the local farmer's market and buy some little pygmy apples the size of clementines, and they're all weird colors but they're from some local farm, and you buy some locally made bread and buy some. . . wait, what is this? Red Bull? Doritos? All of a sudden you realize only the fruit here is local, and some of the bread, so you find another farmer across town you can buy beef from, and another farmer who you can get pork from, and now you're buying all locally, and driving all over God's red desert to get everything you need, and spending twice what you did at Wal-Mart, and spending half your saturday collecting food. Now, you're contributing to the local economy and not giving money to the giant food corporations that are trying to push small farms out of business. . . but you're still driving all over to buy the shit, and burning through petroleum like a motherfucker.

Face it: when it comes to the continuity of life on this planet, you are a pest. You're the renegade cell, eating away at all of the nice and friendly cells around you. I know I'm not telling you anything new right now: you've seen The Matrix, you've heard about overpopulation, global warming, oil spills and you know how totally, absolutely fucked polar bears are right now, but it's always been like that ever since you were born, and we keep coming up with new sciences, so inevitably something will come up to save the day, right? We'll take some polar bear DNA and store it, and once we're all caught up with Jurassic Park technologies, we'll bring 'em back. And, by the time we get to there, we'll be able to stop raising cows; we can just raise steaks: little flat cows that don't have brains, don't have needs other than maybe watering them and spooning nutrients into their slack mouths, and sea-urchin-like chicken creatures without any minds that we can make into chicken fingers, and none of them will feel a thing, so there won't be any question, ethically speaking, right? Right?

Don't hit me up with your "playing God" argument, because that's bullshit. We "play God" when we amputate a gangrenous leg, when we remove a tumor, when we brush our fucking teeth. So, what is really wrong with growing steaks in soil, and not raising cows in huge concentration camps where they hang out in their own shit all day? What's wrong with doing away with coffins, and simply mulching our loved ones? They're going in the dirt either way.

If we're being utilitarian, is our urchin-chicken happier or less happy than our chicken in a lightless pen with ridiculous pecs so oversized his legs are broken? What about the chicken who has gone mad and is now pecking other chickens to death? Probably urchin-chicken. I'm just saying.

That said, I wouldn't eat urchin-chicken, if I wanted to go out on a limb and say a company would be required to even TELL me the product I was buying was urchin: "Warning: this product is made from something that tastes like, but isn't, a chicken." They don't tell me when my steaks are cloned, or through what fucked up chemical reactions they've made my food, so I have my doubts.

What's wrong with growing a mindless food animal, much the way we grow corn or rice or soy? What's wrong with growing mindless clones of ourselves, just for the purpose of harvesting their organs? This would be an easier question to answer if I wasn't an atheist, and I could quote an instruction book, but I can't.

I have to answer the question, and I'll give an answer that Atwood kinda-does-but-doesn't: we don't know what will happen. We didn't know sea walls would increase erosion in other parts of the river when we first started building them. We didn't know that lighthouses would kill tons and tons of birds because birds fly toward the light. We didn't know that carbon emissions could be a problem until we'd flooded tons of them off into the atmosphere. So, why shouldn't we use science to make the world cater to our every desire and impulse?

Because we can't even predict the weather.


Oh, you want me to talk about the book? Yeah, I guess I could do that. As you can tell by my meta-review, this one gets the gears in your head turning. But, the characters were all flat and, although full of potential, ended up dull. The post-apocalyptic world we're reading about is intriguing, as are the new creatures that have replaced humans. The bizarre, freakish animals created by science are also perfectly horrific.

That said, some of this feels like a pretty big stretch. According to Atwood, we'll eventually be desensitized enough that we'll enjoy watching people tortured to death online, and we'll also like watching little children having sex with grown men. And I'm not talking about in a "2 girls 1 cup," watch-it-once-because-it-sounds-fucked-up way. . I mean, she imagines people will sit around watching this shit all the time. Perhaps I'm a prude, but I don't think either of these will ever become popular with more than a small audience. My cynicism only goes so far, I guess.

Far as dystopias go, this is an interesting and unusual one. It's also an entertaining and quick read. I wish Atwood would've invested a bit more time in filling out these characters, and given us a five-star book instead. . . but nobody bats 100%. I'm looking forward to trying some of her non-science fictiony works soon.
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Reading Progress

07/24/2010 page 132
35.0% "This ain't the feel good hit of the summer." 2 comments
07/25/2010 page 210
56.0% "Yay for genetic modification!" 2 comments
01/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 64) (64 new)

message 1: by Brad (last edited Aug 04, 2010 01:41PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brad I love it when you rant. I want to get some liquor into you and take part in some sort of uprising in the local pub.

Annalisa This book does give you a lot to think about with the ethics of creation, and for that it's a good dystopia. But I agree that the characters aren't very well fleshed out and I too struggled believing that everyone would fall into such intense moral decline. I'm glad to see your reviews coming back to polar bears :).

Michael I hope it doesn't disappoint you to find out I'm a happy drunk. . . you're better off just giving me some espresso if you say you want a revolution. And I'm always down with revolting, just tell me which pub we're starting in.

Michael I'm glad to see your reviews coming back to polar bears :).

You know, it's hard NOT to write about polar bears. They're hardcore, yet simultaneously cute and kinda cuddly.

Michael Continuing this new hobby of posting multiple posts right in a row to the same review. . .

Yeah, part of my problem was it seemed like EVERYONE was okay with EVERYTHING. Developing brainless animals? Whatev. Murders on the internets? *shrug* Perhaps this is connected to the lack of character development. She didn't spend long enough considering her characters' motivations, and also didn't spend enough time thinking about the populace's various motivations.

Phil James I enjoyed the rant,too.

If I said you should read her companion/parallel book
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60... you probably wouldn't, but should you, you'd find rich resonances and interplay between them, and, by a kind of retrospective reading, greater depth to the characters of the first book.

Michael Thanks, Phil!

I may come back to that one later, but next time I'm in the mood for Atwood, I'm going to try out some of her non-SF work. I've started out with The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx & Crake, so I want to get a sense of what else she does before I finish of the SF stuff.

You recommend any of her...uh, literary work? I've been thinking about Alias Grace, The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, but haven't settled on anything yet.

Phil James Sorry, I haven't read any of her other novels, but I can recommend her short stories and especially her poetry.

Kathy A rant for the ages - thanks!

message 10: by Jen (new)

Jen According to Atwood, we'll eventually be desensitized enough that we'll enjoy watching people tortured to death online, and we'll also like watching little children having sex with grown men.

So...have you noticed the six Saw films they've made? Because I wish I hadn't.

Michael I realized after the third one that nothing else cerebral or non-stupid was ever going to happen in that pathetic shit-heap of a series. I do think there's an inherent difference between televised--or video game-- violence, and real-life-watching-people-die violence. I'm an avid fan of horror movies (that either don't suck, or suck in a funny way), but I have a stronger emotional response to being around people with bad headaches than I ever do to anything on the TV screen. So, from my personal experience, I wouldn't say the success of Saw films is a sign that, as a whole, our society enjoys watching people REALLY die.

That was a jumbled argument, but I hope it made sense. By the way, we made it safely back to Arizona!

message 12: by Jen (new)

Jen It does make sense. Violence porn like that just freaks me out, no matter if it's real (thank God it's not).

Glad you made it back! It was great to see you!

Michael It was great to see you, too! I'm glad it has now been confirmed that you are who I thought you were.

BTW, if'n you're interested, I'm going to post my bachelor's party roast of David. I'll warn you, though, it's nasty in just about every conceivable way. And in some ways that are inconceivable.

message 14: by Scribble (last edited Jul 29, 2012 03:38PM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca According to Atwood, we'll eventually be desensitized enough that we'll enjoy watching people tortured to death online...

Yup. Couldn't agree more.

Great review - and ditto Bird Brian's comment. But I'll probably ditch the book from my TBR list now.

message 15: by Miriam (new)

Miriam They're importing pizzas from Italy because Italian pizzas are better, not as a cost-cutting measure.

Michael That would make a kind of sense. For the same reason, it would make sense to strangle kittens if kittens tasted better when they die by asphyxiation. Assuming you eat kittens. But who doesn't?

The kittens in this comparison are the petroleum.

message 17: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Michael wrote: "That would make a kind of sense. For the same reason, it would make sense to strangle kittens if kittens tasted better when they die by asphyxiation. Assuming you eat kittens. But who doesn't?

The kittens in this comparison are the petroleum."

But...is there any kind of definitive study that states we cannot use renewable energy (wind, solar, wave etc) to transport goods between countries (because of cost, time, whatever)? The issue is the fuel we are using, isn't it?

Michael Well, right now, we can only use petroleum to power aircraft. If the pizza was shipped by boat, I have no idea. With the current limitations of non-petroleum fuels aside, I think you're right: if we knew imported food was being shipped using only renewable or inexhaustible energy, many people would worry a lot less about where their food was coming from.

Michael Thanks for the rec! It sounds a little likeCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail, which focuses on specific, isolated cultures who have maintained bad priorities and driven themselves to extinction through running out of resources. Diamond invites comparisons with the current global resource market. It's very theoretical and historical, not focusing as much on science as I would have liked, but it's still an interesting argument.

Brian, do you know whether we've made any progress with making algae a realistic energy source? I haven't followed up on it in a few years, but National Geographic was all excited about the possibilities a while back.

message 20: by Scribble (last edited Jul 30, 2012 08:42PM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca One of the issues with algae is the cost of extraction and processing, however there are existing operations so I think the bet is that as the cost of extraction/processing of fossil fuel increases, algae will become more popular. It's been a while since I looked at algae so things could have changed dramatically in the interim.

Electric cars are one alternative for grocery shopping, depending on what is producing the electricity ie clean and green or otherwise.

There is another option for sea transport, but that is a major plot point for my book, so I'm not giving it away here :D. Since I don't want this to be a totally shameless plug, msg me if you would like to know.

(a form of it is already in use).

Michael anything which stores the solar energy that falls there (algae, plankton) is going to be the source of an insane amount of energy.

This combined with the speed you can grow the stuff--I don't remember how long it takes to double in size, but it's fast--gives algae a lot of potential.

One of the issues with algae is the cost of extraction and processing,

This was a big part of the problem last time I read about it, too. Here's hoping it's at least getting cheaper, even if it's still expensive compared to other options. I'm all about algae-powered jet packs. And we will have jet packs in the future.

message 22: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Michael wrote: "And we will have jet packs in the future"

Not if we can figure out how to make animal cells redifferentiate. Then we'll just grow wings.

message 23: by Cecily (last edited Jul 31, 2012 04:49AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cecily You'll get "the gears in your head turning" in a similar but different way if you read the next (not in the sense of plot chronology) MadAdam book, The Year of the Flood (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...).

It's the same world, but a very different narrative style and most of the characters and situations are different. The lack of sexual exploitation of children is a big plus, too.

message 24: by Ross (new) - added it

Ross Awesome review / Tirade!!

You've heard of snuff films right. I don't think it's a far stretch for the number of these people who watch it to grow and love watching torture on the Internet.
Same with the sex. There is child porn and I'm sure some sick people get thier jollies from thinking about watching young kids and adults. The next step is for it to happen and spread.
It's disgusting! and sad. hopefully it will not come to be true.

Michael Dear Daniel,

Screw you, douche. I review books however the fuck I want.

message 26: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! This being the internet, tantrums aren't limited to fb. Give Michael a little slack, though, since he has to wear adult diapers and is practically still a child. A poopy, cranky child.

Michael Give Michael a little slack, though, since he has to wear adult diapers and is practically still a child. A poopy, cranky child.

Hey, I do not wear adult diapers. I prefer the ones with Spider-man on them, and they don't make those for adults yet.

Classy - You do shop at Walmart

If you had read this book, you would recognize that it is actually not that off topic of a review. Of course, since you've set all of your profile info to private and then gone about insulting reviews by people you don't know, I can only assume your shelves are filled with Terry Goodkind and Harry Turtledove.

Michael "OMG! Great book- LOL!!!! ;D"

WTF, Brian, you stole my review of Ulysses! :( I spent forever on that review....

Sheri I do think of these things as I run around town for groceries at 4 (yes,really it's true) different stores. My consolation is always that I'm in the car anyway running other errands.....

Michael I do think of these things as I run around town for groceries at 4 (yes,really it's true) different stores. My consolation is always that I'm in the car anyway running other errands.....

We've finally gotten it down to two stores, but we've also given up on trying to buy only local. We're still getting the produce locally, and eating almost zero meat, which is a lot better than a year ago!

message 31: by Anna (new) - added it

Anna TL: DR. Jeez.

message 32: by Carolanne (new) - added it

Carolanne Cat's Eye is my favorite Atwood book. I highly recommend it.

Margot "According to Atwood, we'll eventually be desensitized enough that we'll enjoy watching people tortured to death online..."

Surely, everyone here hasn't forgotten about gladiators, right? I really don't think it's too far-fetched..

Karen I also recommend Cats Eye.

Cecily Carolanne wrote: "Cat's Eye is my favorite Atwood book. I highly recommend it."

VERY different from this (contemporary and earlier, rather than futuristic, and lots about art and female friendships), but yes, an excellent book.

Katya Bogdanov So much agreement with you.

message 37: by Gg (new) - rated it 3 stars

Gg This is possibly the best review of a book that I have ever read. Was the review actually better than the book? Maybe.

message 38: by Nicole (new) - added it

Nicole well done! great review

Shannon wow...

message 40: by Masha (new)

Masha Love this review so much.

Catherine for those of you who think the characters lack depth, she got you! atwood is stellar at blowing our minds. Read the other two books in this triology and you will have more depth then you can handle.

message 42: by Farva2 (new)

Farva2 TLDR

Michael Thanks for all the comments, everyone! Catherine, I don't know that it can be called "getting us" when you have to read multiple books to see the character development. Since this is Atwood, I can believe it was an authorial choice that benefits the series as a whole, but that doesn't make my enjoyment of Oryx and Crake any higher :)

message 44: by Donovan (new)

Donovan Well something inspired the hell out of you. Not Atwood? Either way, well done, sir.

Paula Great review, Michael.

message 46: by Jamie (new)

Jamie I enjoyed this review far more than the little I read of the book. Well done.

message 47: by [deleted user] (new)

you said to Michael:
After reading your review of O & C I feel like a sophomoric fool . I'm so
E a s y and silly , but if I don't dare say what I think , how will I know ?
The Walmart bit, it seems, re. Rant was "liked" a lot .
Maybe I live among unfleshed out people , but Atwood's people seemed real enough to me . I'm hoping against hope the forecast for the human soul is not true. All the stuff you wrote before addressing the book seems to point to twisted and perverse tendencies . Very scary . Also crude . Ugliness abounds . Ugly big Corporation greed . No Anti-Trust laws anymore? If there is a God sure we'll be damned for the way animals and innocents are farmed .
I have to turn to laughter and to light or die of Sympathy fatigue and victim overload . Seriously .

message 48: by [deleted user] (new)

POETA NASCITUR, NON FIT . Oryx and Crake is awesome ( as the word awesome used to mean)!
Margaret Atwood started writing at 6 years of age . "POETA NASCITUR, NON FIT." "Poets are born, not made ."
This is my first Margaret Atwood and she is a born poet .

message 49: by Hunter Dickey (new)

Hunter Dickey Civil

message 50: by Hunter Dickey (new)

Hunter Dickey Firghevhd

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