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Literature / Oryx and Crake

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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 used in Oryx and Crake:

  • Apocalypse How: Every human on the planet is killed (or at least so it seems at first), but most other parts of the ecosystem are left more-or-less intact, not counting the years of EvilutionaryBiology that went on beforehand.
  • 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. They start out as friends and through the narration we learn Crake was responsible for the apocalyptic setting of the present.
  • 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.
  • Brainy Pig: This book has "pigoons", human-pig chimeras developed for organ transplants, as one of several genetically engineered animals that went feral after the apocalypse. After observing a herd of them Snowman is downright terrified of them and speculates that they have human brain cells. The third book confirms that they're basically sapient, and Gardeners and Crakers form an alliance with them.
  • Cloning Body Parts: "Pigoons" are chimeric pigs with human organs, several human organs in fact, based on one possible method of producing artificial organs. This includes human brain tissue, which proves a problem for Jimmy later on.
  • 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 the girl who looked like that or settled on a completely different girl who just looked like her.
  • 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. He is always one step ahead of whoever is against him. He has a goal and will manipulate anyone or anything around him to get his checkmate. He also plays literal chess and is very good at it.
  • Crapsack World: The world is some current trends taken to the extreme: ecological destruction, alienation, inequality, the only use for learning left being the misuse of science for blind profit. Crake for one is convinced humans are biologically unable not to destroy everything.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: "Anything more complicated than selective breeding will be the death of us all" is basically the theme of the book.
  • 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 
  • 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.
  • MegaCorp: Several. CorpSeCorps is most plot-relevant.
  • It's the new internet porn.
  • Self-Made Orphan: Implied with Crake, who was convinced his mother and uncle had turned his father over to CorpSeCorps to be "suicided", so he apparently killed her.
  • Super-Persistent Predator: Feral pigoons. Justified, in that they have human brain tissue, and so are smart enough to get annoyed at being thwarted, hold grudge, hyper-focus on a bad plan and engage in cruelty.
  • 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 Un-Twist: 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.