Bioethics Blogs

BioSci Fi: Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood, 2003

Jacob Sherkow

One of my favorite novels—science fiction or otherwise—is Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, a beautifully written and frighteningly prescient tale of the future of boyhood, love, sex, the foundations of civilization, educational institutions, pharmaceutical policy, pet ownership, and, of course, genetic engineering. The book opens to a seemingly post-apocalyptic world where our narrator, Snowman, appears to be the last true human on Earth—and the caretaker of a small band of child-like humanoids he refers to as the Crakers. We spend the rest of the novel learning, through Snowman’s flashbacks, how the world has come to be this way—and just who was responsible and why. Oryx and Crake presents an almost implausibly dark view of humanity and the potential dangers that come with fixing the power of unregulated genetic engineering in the hands of a few. (Spoilers to follow.)

The plot of Oryx and Crake of is superbly rich and seems almost impossible to briefly summarize. Nonetheless: Snowman grew up as Jimmy, on a biotech compound—think the Googleplex or the Facebook campus—with his friend Crake. Crake is a genius biotechnologist, even at a young age; Jimmy, an indifferent student. In high school, both boys’ lives take a few dark turns. Jimmy’s mother leaves the compound to rebel against the onslaught of biotechnology. She’s eventually captured and executed on video, where she mouths to Jimmy, before being shot, “I’m counting on you.” Jimmy also becomes obsessed with a girl he sees in a child-porn video, and is haunted by his inability to save her.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.