16 October 2006

Oryx and Crake

When a "serious" writer engages in science fiction, I'm not sure how to take it. Is science fiction being legitimized, or is the writer slumming?

In Margaret Atwood's case, the genre offers an opportunity to follow current trends to their logical (and deeply unpleasant) conclusions. With Oryx and Crake, she presents us with a fairly standard post-apocalyptic last-man-on-earth story: we get glimpses of the world-that-was (very similar to ours) in flashback and these hints highlight the way that world sowed the seeds of its own destruction.

All well and good; there is nothing in the story that is not compelling.

Unfortunately, there is nothing in the story that is very complicated, either. Which seems a strange thing to say about this author, who, in books like Cat's Eye and The Blind Assassin, has shown herself capable of conveying enormous complications. It's as if the effort of creating a different and believable world has been so great that nothing's left for creating complex characters. Instead, the bad guys are bad, the nuts guys are nuts, the good guys might be confused, but they're good.

The result is an exceptional and thought-provoking science fiction story, not a great novel. The characters don't live, though their dilemmas do.

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