Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Ugh, I hate this review. After gaining some perspective on some similar books, I'll be back.

There’s something about Oryx and Crake, one of Margaret Atwood’s many dystopian novels, which has kept me from writing a review even though I finished the book a little while ago. It’s not that I didn’t like the book—it’s actually right up my alley. Dystopian novels give me a thrill down in my black little heart.

Atwood’s world is one in the near future, where cities are ghettos and the elite live in corporate enclaves with adults working in the owner-company’s complexes while the children go to company schools. The smartest students move forward to work in the growing genetically modified animal business while the less gifted are pushed towards the liberal arts (English major says ouch). Everything is provided for you. It’s a faux-utopia within a greater, stricter dystopian system. When the one-man scientific revolution in the form of the character Crake destroys most of mankind, a utopia appears to be built out of the ashes of the old. Or is it?

Utopias are a curious thing. I seem to remember that, back in high school health class, we studied Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a pyramid with basic survival needs at its base and self-actualization at its peak. Without the base, the pyramid crumbles and a human being cannot become a well-rounded human being because he is too worried about his own survival to care about things that don’t contribute to his warmth and caloric intake. Yet, it’s when that self-actualization is reached that humans begin branching off into areas of exploration that might be better left unexplored. It also may lead them to lose that sharpness that was so important to survival, making them easily cattle prodded into place. It seems to me that a utopia is a mere breath away from a dystopia.

What I would really love to do is to come back to this when I read Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. I feel that understanding the original definition of the word might coalesce my thoughts about Oryx and Crake into something more than a disjointed, crap-psychology ramble. This is a thought-provoking book and causes the reader to take stock of the shock entertainment that now seems so commonplace, of the scientific discoveries that daily either drive us to our salvation or our ruin.

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