Oryx and Crake is a dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood, where a large part of human civilisation has been wiped out by a lab-created virus. This is part of the MaddAddam trilogy and often referred to as a cli-fi book. Please note, the following review contains spoilers.
What is Oryx and Crake about?
The plot follows the life of Jimmy, who is later known as Snowman. Jimmy had a troubled childhood because his mother left the family in order to continue her activism. This is something that affects Jimmy as the authorities constantly ask him if his mother has been in touch with him throughout his teenage years. His friend is Crake, a genius who will later attend a good school.
When they are teenagers, Jimmy and Crake watch a lot of illegal sites and come across a girl who, it later transpires, they are both in love with. Her name is Oryx. Crake tracks her down many years later and she will go on to work for him. However, she will also have a relationship with Jimmy.
This is a world where gene-editing and splicing are commonplace. As such animals are created which are from different species, such as pigoons, rakunks and wolvogs. Crake also befriends a group of super-intelligent people collectively known as MaddAddam. They come to work for him at his facility, where he eventually also recruits Jimmy. It’s here that Jimmy meets Oryx in person. This is also where Crake develops a type of human named after himself – the Crakers. These are people who are not just physically different, but also have less of the negative aspects of human nature built in. It’s Oryx who is teaching these people about life, and they revere both her and Crake as Gods.
Crake also has another plan; one that involves wiping out most of civilisation. By developing a virus (as well as a vaccine at the same time), which he spreads through BlyssPluss pills that Oryx sells to clients in cities around the world. This virus is then activated in all these cities simultaneously, and it spreads quickly as it’s airborne. This sees most of humanity wiped out. Jimmy is spared as he’s been given the vaccine without knowing it. This vaccine was given to him by Crake before visiting the pleeblands, and Crake assured him it was to keep him disease free away from the compounds.
After the virus wipes out most of humanity, Jimmy is left with the Crakers, who he must care for and guide, all while navigating a drastically altered world.
Is Oryx and Crake part of a series?
Oryx and Crake is part of the MaddAddam trilogy, which includes the following books:
- Oryx and Crake
- The Year of the Flood
A review of the second book in the series, The Year of the Flood, can be read here.
Oryx and Crake – An example of early cli-fi
In Cli-Fi: A Companion (edited by Axel Goodbody and Adeline Johns-Putra), there is a chapter written by Dana Phillips on the MaddAddam trilogy. Phillips writes that the trilogy, “Explores climate change, mass extinction, genetic engineering, globalization, cultural decadence, industrial modernity’s failings and… environmental resistance.” This then can be seen as an early example of cli-fi, which also touches upon many other crucial issues.
An example of climatic changes discussed in the book can be found on page 136 of Oryx and Crake, “The weather had become so strange and could no longer be predicted – too much rain or not enough, too much wind, too much heat – and the crops were suffering.”
Early books in the cli-fi genre such as Oryx and Crake did much to raise the profile of climate fiction, and bring this niche genre’s message to a wider audience, which should be acknowledged and applauded. Going forward though, I believe cli-fi stands a better chance of bringing about climate action by moving away from dystopian narratives. This is something I discussed in opinion pieces for both The Bookseller and Mongabay. Overall, for those interested in the development of the cli-fi genre, this remains a key read and is well written given that it’s by Atwood. As such Oryx and Crake deserved its shortlisting for both the Man Booker and Orange prizes.
My new cli-fi children’s picture book is Nanook and the Melting Arctic. Nanook is a caring polar bear who lives in the Arctic. But when his igloo starts melting, Nanook must find a way to save his friends and his home. He knows that the people who can help are also those who’ve caused the problem and he must find a way to convince leaders to act on the climate crisis. You can purchase Nanook from Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US.