Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
This is a phenomenal book, the first in the Maddadam Trilogy and I have no idea why I didn’t read it before now. I plan on getting through the next two volumes next month.
If you want a complementary book to Harani’s Homo Deus, this may give you some inkling of what’s down the line for genetic engineering. Not a pretty picture.
The book crosses back and forth between the current time in the book (30-50 years from now?) and the past in first-person from the narrator, who calls himself Snowman. He seems to be the sole survivor of something, we’ll discover what, with companions known only as the Children of Crake. These narrative jumps between his interactions with the strange, seemingly child-like tribe with Snowman’s searches for food and clothing and his past, starting with his teens and his life through school, university, and early career. The book gradually exposes a world in which genetic engineering has become both common and extremely competitive. One of the products created, for example, is a chicken that is basically a mouth, breasts, and excretory systems, engineered to create chicken meat quickly and efficiently, bred without a brain so that animal rights activists can’t complain that it’s experiencing discomfort.
As the book continues we learn that these genetic manipulations are also being tested on everything from weaponized microorganisms to human beings, and Snowman’s high school friend Crake has been the sociopathic genius behind some of the most radical changes.
A tipping point is reached that causes a global plague. Survivors are Snowman, the Children of Crake, wolf hybrids that act like domesticated dogs until close enough to attack, and feral swine now intelligent enough to work in groups to attack.
The book is suspenseful and thought-provoking with Atwood’s amazing ability to make horrible worlds compelling. All signs point to Snowman being the last non-engineered human on earth until he learns from the Children of Crake that beings like him have shown themselves. The book closes with Snowman about to step forward to meet or confront his own kind.
There are poignant moments in the book and hard-to-take passages on child trafficking. If you made it unscathed through The Handmaid’s Tale you’ll do fine. I’m shopping for volumes two and three as soon as this uploads.