Literature / Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake is a 2003 novel by Margaret Atwood.

"Snowman" is a storyteller and teacher of lore to a new species of sapient beings. He has reason to believe he is the last of the old human beings; humanity and its civilization has been wiped out in a plague.

This novel alternates between Flashbacks and "present-day." In the flashbacks, he tells about growing up and living with his best friend. They are privileged, living in a walled compound run by drug companies. Genetic engineering is very common in society; they engineer super-pigs to better model human diseases, for instance. His best friend becomes very interested in biology and genetic engineering; he eventually takes on the nickname "Crake" when the pair start playing the game "Extinctathon." (Our protagonist is no good at it, as there are many extinct species and most of them are not big, cute, or prominent. Crake becomes an expert.)

In the present, something goes horribly wrong in a foraging mission, and Snowman has to go to one of the now-ruined and abandoned complexes for shelter - specifically, the one he used to live in. The two storylines do converge.

A sequel, The Year Of The Flood (2009), has been published; rather than continuing the plot, it details what other characters are/were doing during the events of the first novel. The third and final book in the trilogy, MaddAddam (also the title of the trilogy itself) was released in 2013.

Tropes originating in Oryx and Crake:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Jimmy's reaction to Crake's creation, neon-colored herpes.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: Neon green rabbits
  • Anti-Hero
  • Apocalypse How: Type 3a, mostly.
  • After the End: After a plague wipes out a good chunk of humanity.
  • Author Tract: "Humans are evil and deserve to be wiped out."
  • Bad Dreams: So bad that Crake screams in the night from his dreams every night. Made even creepier by the fact that he does not remember them on awakening.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: According to Crake. When designing his new, improved humans, he spends more effort to make sure they won't believe in God than he does on anything else, and doesn't consider them a success until he finds a way to do so. Although note how eagerly they believe everything they hear from Snowman. . .
  • Big Bad Friend: Crake is this to Jimmy.
  • Bookends: Zero hour.
    • Also, Snowman wakes before dawn.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Oryx has this with regards to her past; despite all the horrible things that were done to her, she honestly does not feel wronged by any of it, and seems confused that other people (mainly Jimmy) think she was.
  • Character Filibuster
  • Classical Anti-Hero: Jimmy
  • Cloning Body Parts: "Pigoons" are chimeric pigs with human organs, several human organs in fact, based on one possible method of producing artificial organs.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Jimmy becomes obsessed with a random young girl from an online sex show to the extent that he prints out a screen shot of the girl and carries it with him for years. We find out later Crake was similarly obsessed with the same girl, though they did not discuss her with one another. Jimmy recognizes this girl years later on a TV news report despite her having aged in the interim.
    • Years later, the same girl is served up to Crake by a corporate pimp service. This Makes Sense In Context due to Crake's description that the Student Services would find you whatever you requested. If he showed them the image of her as child, they probably went looking for a girl who looked like that.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Cluster S Bomb, really.
    Sometimes in the dusk he runs up and down on the sand, flinging stones at the ocean and screaming, Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit! He feels better afterwards.
  • The Chessmaster: Crake in the literal and troperiffic sense.
  • Crapsack World: Atwood makes a fairly compelling case that human civilization deserves to be exterminated.
    • More like has to be exterminated. Crake's reason for what he did was that if he didn't do it, humanity would utterly destroy itself, thus exterminating all intelligent life. Crake got rid of humanity, but to save intelligent life he created the children of Crake.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: What most hostile bioform splices do. This is inflicted on all of humanity (just about)by Crake at the end using such a virus.
  • Decade Dissonance: Between the Compounds and the pleeblands.
  • Depopulation Bomb: The intended effect of the virus; it's fairly successful.
  • Dystopia: The Guardian's reviewer thought that Nineteen Eighty-Four's future looked pleasant by comparison.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Jimmy's briefly-mentioned girlfriends from the first book, Brenda and Amanda, are important characters of the second book.
    • Zeb is secretly introduced via the chat session Crake starts.
  • Everyone Went to School Together: Present in the first book
  • Evolutionary Levels: Possibly subverted.
  • Evilutionary Biologist
  • Freak Out
  • Gambit Roulette: It's implied that Crake had been working on his life's work for a long time. His mother's death was caused by a virus that was very similar to the one he later unleashed upon Earth. See Self-Made Orphan below.
  • Garden of Evil
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: And how.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Subverted with the Crakers. Crake wanted them to be incapable of symbolic thought for fear that they would recreate the mistakes of humanity. He fails in this. They develop music, religion and by the end of MaddAddam, art, but still remain naive and pacifistic.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Or a heart of evil. Or a heart of nothing. Or a heart of...gah, stupid Oryx.
  • How We Got Here: Snowman wakes up on a beach...
  • Killer Rabbit: The wolvogs. Look like friendly dogs, and when they are not ruthlessly killing other creatures, they act like friendly dogs.
    • They're designed to act like that, until you get close.
  • LEGO Genetics: OrganInc has bred lots of exotic-sounding hybrids. Most have fairly self-explanatory names like "pigoon"note , "rakunk"note  and the unfortunate "snat"note .
  • Literal Genie
  • Mad Scientist: Crake
  • May Contain Evil: BlyssPluss pills are marketed as the ultimate sex aid: they act as contraceptives, prevent the transmission of STDs and enhance sensation. Unfortunately, some of the pills also contain an artificially created hemorrhagic Ebola-like virus that wipes out almost the entire human race.
  • Mega Corp.: Several.
  • It's the new internet porn.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning
  • Name and Name
  • Named After Someone Famous: Crake's real name is Glenn, from "boy genius" classical pianist, Glenn Gould.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: CorpSeCorps.
  • New Media Are Evil: Any and all advancements are painted in the most horrible light Atwood can manage. Apparently anything more technologically advanced than steam power is another step towards the end of the world.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Crake, albeit somewhat silently. Apart from the ominous fridge magnets.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Several of the members of MaddAddam never have their real identities revealed.
  • Our Elves Are Better: The Crakers, a race of beautiful people literally designed to live harmoniously with nature.
  • Schmuck Bait
  • Self-Made Orphan: Implied with Crake, who was convinced his mother and uncle had turned his father over to CorpSeCorps to be "suicided".
  • Synthetic Plague: HelthWyzer put plagues in vitamin pills to create demand for their products, which inspired Crake to put the plague he used to wipe out humanity in sex enhancement pills.
  • The Story Teller: Snowman/Jimmy
  • Tuckerization: The characters Amanda Payne and Rebecca Eckler were named after winners in charity auctions
  • Twist Ending / The Untwist: Although it's being foreshadowed very explicitly all along, when the revelation comes, it still hits you like a punch in the gut and a kick in the nuts.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Oryx. Every time Jimmy presses her for her history, her story changes - in the end, Jimmy suspects that she invents her past to humor him. Also, Jimmy himself, both literally and in the lit.crit. senses.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Jimmy feels he was one to Crake.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Even if the means are wiping out the entire human race and replacing them with a new one engineered to live harmoniously with nature.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: A number of companies in the story use these, along with Wiki Words.