100/365/17: Oryx and Crake

Apologies for the short absence. I haven’t posted in a week or so. There’s a new release of my favorite video game and I wanted to see how many nerdy things I could fit into my life at one time.

But I’m still reading. I recently finished #17 In my 100 book quest, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

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If I had realized this would become a trilogy I probably wouldn’t have started it. Why I didn’t is a mystery to me, since I believe there’s some unwritten rule in publishing that all modern fiction of this genre is trilogy bound. Anyway, I’m glad I didn’t realize because this is the best book I’ve read in a long time. Post-apocalyptic storytelling is some of my favorite work, and Atwood does it with brilliance.

The cover of this novel depicted a claim from The New Yorker that she “does Orwell one better.” Is it better than 1984? That’s debatable. But it is a masterful work of art, and not really a fair comparison since it’s starkly different from Orwell’s style.

Atwood is able to take broad, complex avenues and simplify them to make a pleasurable read. But holy GRE words, Batman! At times this thing reads less like a novel and more like a thesaurus.

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Sluice. Pastiche. Laconic. Truncheon. Vetch. Vestigial. Hymenoptera. Chiaroscuro. Synesthesia. These are all words you’ll find buried in the text. I pride myself on having a broad vocabulary, as I’m sure most writers do, but at some point I feel like Atwood was just showing off. I see you, Margaret.

The characters in the title play a part in the prose, but the real hero of the story is Jimmy aka Snowman. In my minds eye, I was picturing a Bruce Willis circa ’94-’98 when every movie he did just made him look dirty. Then again, maybe that’s just the way he always looks. But now that I’ve said it, just try reading this book without seeing Bruce.

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We open on Snowman’s derelict state and follow him as he navigates Atwood’s ruined world. The beginning of this story is a little hard to follow because while the reader is able to recognize so much has changed, there’s still so much we don’t know. Be patient with the revelation. The subtlety of discovery here is well worth the wait. Atwood leaks one little drop at a time before you get to the climactic flood.

Rakunks and pigoons and wolvogs, oh my! These are just a few of the creatures you’ll find living among Atwood’s primitive Crakers. All are bred from crazy cockamamie scientific experimentation that will likely push the boundaries of your better judgement. There’s a lot of god playing and other weird shit (even weird shit that has to do with actual, literal shit).

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I have a great respect for speculative fiction, especially of the apocalyptic sort. In the realm of writing, world building is hard and I’m in awe over this one. Atwood does such a beautiful job of bringing this to life, and yet, in the end, there are still so many unanswered questions. Hence the trilogy. Go figure.

I intend to get to the rest of this series after maybe a few entries from other artists. Not to mention, the recent television series adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale has me oh-so-intrigued. I may overcome my aversion to reading multiple books from the same author and give Atwood at least three more spots in the hundred. She earned it. Stay tuned!

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