Saturday, August 08, 2009

Crake (and Oryx)

I used to read science fiction a lot - really a lot - in my teens and early twenties. I was never big in the subgenres of 'cowboys in space', 'giant alien lizards', 'medieval sword fantasies', 'goblins and trolls and hobbit', so that didn't really leave a lot left over! My favorite writers elaborated different worlds for a reason - they had something to say, an interesting story to tell. Philip Dick was one, but others of my favorites included Stanislaw Lem, Ursula LeGuin, John Brunner, John Varley, Walter Tevis ... Doris Lessing had some interesting books as well, including the Shikasta series, which I am reminded of now by the related Margaret Atwood 'Oryx and Crake', which I've just finished reading and am now thinking about.

I wanted to like it more than I did, because her 'Handmaid's Tale' was an extraordinary story, quite excellent and chilling. And there were some good things about this one too: her ideas about what would be 'improvements' in the species were interesting (if somewhat reminiscent of Leguin's 'The Lathe of Heaven', where racism is solved by turning everyone gray) and her writing style is appealing to me (no bullshit, just tell the story).

There are a number of structural things that irritated me with the book - the main character is incoherent and seemingly brain-damaged in the beginning, but not in the end, which occurs only a day or two later. This is not explained at all. Also, the fact that the time span when things actually happen in the book is very short - the rest of the book, I would say 90%, is all flashbacks, which was annoying. I wanted the author to shit AND get off the pot. Then there is the issue of pornography. It seemed important to her to throw in a ton of it, which was all rather tiresome and not interesting to me. There was no point in Oryx having been a child sex slave - in that it had no bearing on anything else in the story. There was no point in Snowman having been a sex addict. Neither were relevant nor particularly credible either. More stuff like that. Characters that didn't ring true. The episodes in the story were too visibly clothes-hangers for the writer to get certain points across.

As for the story itself, it fell squarely in the subgenre of 'mad scientist destroys the world'. The Crake character decides he can engineer a better species of human so he does, and then he destroys the current human race in the hopes that the better species will take over and thrive. Pointless in the extreme. I'm not sure if the author was joking about that or not. It would be like making a better cockroach, then wiping out the current crop.

The idealization of the Asian kiddie-porn victim, turning her into some kind of naive St Francis of The New Species (and super-sexy fuck-puppet-on-demand as well) was really, really creepy.

As science fiction, it reminded me of Bill Joy's freak-out Wired column of a few years back, when he was warning that nanotechnology was going to mean the end of the world.

The end of the world, the post-apocalyptic "Boy and His Dog" drama is another well-worn subgenre. This version didn't have much to add to it, really. My guess is that, in the world she created, the New Superior Species would probably get wiped out pretty quickly, bringing the entire experiment to a rapid conclusion.

All in all, I would recommend reading 'Mockingbird' by Walter Tevis, instead :}

oh, and funny, I also checked out 'Men and Cartoons' by Jonathan Lethem at the same time from the library, and he has a story in there called 'The Dystopianist' which was perfect satire-remedy for Oryx and Crate. Very funny, about a genetically aktered cabbage that might inadvertently DESTROY THE WORLD.