Margaret Atwood has never shied away from controversial subjects and issues and her widely acclaimed novel Oryx And Crake contains its fair share of hard-hitting questions. Moreover, Atwood seldom gets into controversies for the sake of gaining publicity. Her bravadoes have always been to reflect on contemporary social, political and economic problems and this book too maintains this standard. Not quite a full-fledged science fiction novel, while at the same time not confining to the realist norm, the book can be loosely classified as ‘speculative with a tinge of dystopia’. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the book re-invokes the themes found in Aldous Huxley’s masterpiece A Brave New World. Just as in the latter, Oryx And Crake ponders on the darker aspects of technological development such as xenotransplantation, genetic engineering and creation of transgenic life forms. With a little creative license, Atwood presents readers with animals such as ‘wolvogs’, ‘rakunks’ and ‘pigoons’, etc – some of them possessing sinister qualities and all of them products of transgenic experiments. Moreover, this future society is marked by hyper-commercialization of human activities. In this materially advanced but morally impoverished future scenario, pornography is rampant and economic disparity is stupendous. By presenting us with these conditions in the dystopia of Oryx and Crake, Atwood indirectly asks several pressing questions facing our species.
Atwood portrays the condition of human life just prior to the apocalyptic event unfolded. There were big multinational corporations, whose employees were housed in privileged enclosed compounds, which segregated them from the impoverished majority of humans called the pleeblands. Other signs of decadence in this precipitous moment in recent history were violence-ridden video-games, unscrupulous commercialization of genetic engineering, summary political executions and child pornography. This sort of highly technological society lacking in enduring values was bound to collapse under its own weight sometime. And here is the warning the author issues for human beings at this juncture in history.
The apocalypse in Oryx And Crake is no more than an allegory for the possible doom of our planet and its life-forms. Going by our inaction to mitigate threats of global warming and nuclear warfare, such a catastrophic future is not unlikely. Just as multinational corporations were pointed as chief culprits in the novel, so are these institutions dominant threats to the planet in the real world. The slope is slippery and the descent has long begun. Unless a concerted, compassionate and whole-hearted effort is undertaken by our leaders, we too might soon join the list of extinct species (and there would be no one to make note of our absence either).
As for my personal conjecture on this question, I am inclined to join the pessimists. Based on how global political equations are barely stable and how multinational corporations continue to accumulate ever more shares of power and wealth, I do not see how collective remedial actions of sweeping proportions could be undertaken. The Public Relations industry is not helping the cause by propagating a consumerist culture devoid of spiritual content and introspection.
The catastrophe confronting humans may not be a one-off event like a meteor collision. Rather, as the impoverished among us are pushed to ever lower standards of living, they would die of starvation and disease, leaving the rich to rule the world. But since there is no meaning to richness without poverty, the latter will somehow ensue again, eliminating another chunk of the population. This degenerative cycle with iterate a few times and eventually terminate the species. Hope, in the midst of this ominous doom, might be found in individual action. A change in consciousness at the level of individuals is essential if we are to escape this fate. Each and every one of us will have to take responsibility (as opposed to trusting our leaders to do the right thing) to save our planet.