May 1, 2007

Brave New World?

In her 2003 novel Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood presents a dystopian world extrapolated from our current one. Transglobal biotech companies assume the dominant role of providing privileged humans with food and shelter in protected compounds. The disaffected are left to fend for themselves. There are rampant bioengineering projects, where humans are spliced with pigs and other animals are spliced together to create new species. In this environment, a scientist inadvertently creates a genetic pandemic that kills off the original human race (save for the novel's protagonist "Snowman") leaving only the genetically engineered "Crakers", an innocent, humanesque race without any knowledge of the prior reality.

Atwood terms the novel as being "speculative fiction" rather than pure science fiction, as the possibilities are merely an extension of what she views as the logical progression of our current state of affairs. In this regard, Atwood is highly unromantic in her assessment of humanity, and I can see why Oryx and Crake never made it to Oprah's must-read list; which is unfortunate, as her viewers would be well-served to wake up from the dreams of a life made better by Home Depot and Wal-Mart.

This novel is as prescient and relevant to a better self-understanding as the novel 1984 or the film "Code 64". Instead of being an imagined possibility, the world of this novel is more of a possible imagination. As a result it is a terrifying read, made even more likely by the spectre of the impending post-oil societal collapse predicted by the canaries at Peak Oil.

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