First Read: Oryx and Crake Chapter 7-8 (Sveltana-Asperger’s U.)

Garden of Unearthly Delights

Snowman is tired. After having exhausted what was left of his remaining storage of food, Snowman contemplates new ways of finding sustenance. He’s aware that his body will shut down and begin to devour itself if he doesn’t have access to some meat or protein soon, and has already started cursing his misstep in commanding the Children to bring him only one fish a day through their ritual sacrifice and not more.

In his delirious hunger-raked state of mind, Snowman comes up with the idea of acquiring another “spraygun” so that he can hunt down wild Pigoons for food and ward off ravenous Wolvogs. He’ll journey back to the RejoovenEsence Compound, where apparently a team of other survivors(!) had set up camp but likely had left upon learning something ominous about the facility.

Snowman does not want to go back there, presumably for the same reasons as why the other survivors have left, but otherwise must in order to survive. He knows where Crake’s private bubble-dome bunker “Paradice” is,and is familiar with where a cache of food and weapons might still be housed there.

He’d been one of the angels guarding the gate, in a manner of speaking, so he knows where everything is, he’ll be able to lay his hands on the necessary items. A quick in and out, a snatch and grab. Then he’ll be equipped for anything.” (Pg. 230, Sveltana)

Snowman estimates that the journey to the compound could take as many as three days, but before he leaves off he must pay a visit to the village of the children in order to gather supplies and keep them from inadvertently following him into harms way. On the way to their village, Snowman comes up with a story to tell them to explain his sudden absence. He whistles when he is nearby in order to let them know he is near. (Kind of reminds me of a shadier version of Gandalf; some emaciated, saran-wrapped, self-deluded  weaver of grand exaggerations and benevolent lies.)

In order to fend off the prowling creatures that live in the areas between the compounds, Snowman will require a special substance. One that is only attainable through the Children of Crake. Their urine. “According to Crake – and Snowman has seen nothing since to disprove it – the chemicals programmed into the men’s urine are effective against wolvogs and rakunks, and to a lesser extent against bobkittens and pigoons.” (Pg.362, Purring)

We learn more about the disturbing implications of Crake (and Jimmy’s!) deliberate intervention in the creation of the children. Apparently, this species of humans is capable of subsisting off of their own stool and possess the ability to “Purr”; a form of hyper-ultrasound and mediation that allows the children to heal their own wounds. Crake’s intrusive sense of megalomanical genetic intervetion crosses over into the reproductive cycle of the children as well.

A morose mating ritual which occurs only once every three or so years takes place among the children. Crake has eugenically redesigned the children’s genitalia to flush with a deep azure blue whenever this ritual takes place. This color elicits a specific pheromone, which in turn prompts blue erections from the Children of Crake. Mating takes place in batches, where one child of Oryx chooses up to four children of Crake to conceive with. If not now then eventually, each of the Crakers will have had their turn at the horizontal monster-mash.

This system, of Crake’s design, seemingly circumvents the troublesome intrinsic disappointments that come with the dysfunction of courtship and the divorce between love, lust, and unrequited affection.

“How much misery…how much needless despair has been caused by a series of biological mismatches, a misalignment of the hormones and pheromones? Resulting in the fact that the one you love so passionately won’t or can’t love you. As a species we’re pathetic that way: imperfectly monogamous.”

“Better plan – make it cyclical and also inevitable, as in the other mammals. You’d never want someone you couldn’t have.” (Pg. 374, Blue)

Snowman recollects on the discussion that took place between Crake and himself , sitting in the lunchroom as two(?) early-twenty-something genetic engineers. Snowman, then named Jim (though everyone still called him Jimmy) argued that Crake’s plan negates the thrill of the courtship experience, dulling the satisfaction of the chase as it were and basically reducing these creature to being hormonal robots. To which Crake replies that we in fact are hormonal robots, just faulty ones.

(Gee Golly Gee, pulling out of the perspective of an academic assessment of the text for a sec here, the more I hear about Crake the more I just want to punch him in his fucking throat.)

Jim then makes an argument on the appeal of the value of the arts. Crake replies that the arts are ultimately superfluous to the surviving legacy of a long dead species. It’s an amusing distraction that acts as only an indirect supplement to the sexual act. Essentially, Art is, at its core, an appeal in getting laid.

Through the window of this memory, the narrative jumps back to the eve of Jim and Crake’s graduation from the HelthWyzer Magnet High School. Crake, a student of exemplar reputation and scores is hand-picked by way of a collegiate auction to the Watson-Crick Institute, the post-ecological disaster equivalent of MIT and Harvard for the mathematically and scientifically gifted. Jimmy, on the other hand, is selected for the Martha Graham School of the Arts, a once prestigious liberal arts university now reduced to a dilapidated pool of pompous pretension.

Before starting their collegiate careers however, The two of them take a summer vacation with Crake’s step-father (Uncle Pete) at the Moosonee HelthWyzer Gated Vacation Community. During the summer the two are immersed in news following the patent war over a new form of genetically altered coffee bean which has bankrupted millions of independent coffee farmers, tipping the world economy into peril. (I find it kind of morbidly hilarious that the unraveling of society is being punctuated by the creation of a coffee bean.)

Watching footage of the riots and protests alongside Crake and Uncle Pete, Jim catches a glimpse of someone that appears to be his long lost mother. Quickly taking hold of himself before letting on that he recognizes the woman in the video, Jim later confides in Crake his discovery.

The two go their separate ways at the start of the new school year. Crake goes to Watson-Crake (aka Aspergers U.) and Jim goes to Martha Graham, were with a combination of self-pity and melancholy is able to attract a plethora of emotionally dependent, drama-fixated artsy women who cave in and submit to his abrasive psychological manipulations.

Jim and Crake continue a online correspondence on throughout the first year, and after a bit of insistence on Jim’s part, He comes to visit Crake at Watson-Crick for Thanksgiving Holiday.

Questions after reading:

  • What will Jim find at Watson-Crick? Will he finally meet the elusive Oryx?
  • Has Crake already started the genetic engineering of the Children?
  • Will Crake have a direct hand guiding the ecological apocalypse?
  • What will Snowman find at the RejoovenEsence Compound? What is so terrible there that he would not want to come back?
  • Who and where are these “other survivors”? Will they play a direct hand in Snowman’s journey
  • Will the Children of Oryx and Crake ever find out about Snowman’s deception? What will/would happen?
  • If Snowman was “one of the angels guarding the gate” to Crake’s “Paradice“, who were or might have been the others?

Oryx and Crake; Fan Cover Art by Angelica Alzona

(Next Installment: Oryx and Crake Chapter 8-10 (Wolvogs-Garage)

First Read: Oryx and Crake Chapter 6 cont. (Oryx-Pixieland Jazz)

Enter Oryx.

(Even though I had planned my next response to focus on the progression to chapter 8 (as far as Asperger’s U.), I realized upon completing Pixieland Jazz  that because of space and time constraints, I had failed to document one of if not THE most significant moments in the past chapter; Oryx’s origin story. And so, I would be remiss if I did not give this section the attention it deserves after having paid so much attention to Crake and Jimmy/Snowman.)

The preceding sections of chapter six that culminate in Pixieland Jazz (Oryx, Birdcall, & Roses) describe the apocryphal origin story of Oryx and Crake’s titular female protagonist. Born from a small struggling village in a South-Eastern country of indeterminate name (“A village in Indonesia, or else Myanmar? […] It wasn’t India though. Vietnam? Jimmy guessed. Cambodia? Pg. 180, Oryx), the unnamed girl who would one day grow up to become Oryx is sold by her parents, along with her three siblings, to a foreigner named “Uncle En”: an alias for a faux-benevolent businessman whose trade included child labor, high-level grifting, and sex trafficking.

Despite the fear that accompanied her purchase by Uncle En, Oryx still believed that her Mother had a love for her and her siblings, but that the harsh realities facing her village made selling their children into forced labor the more attractive alternative to slow starvation, crippling disease, and painful death. Oryx first hand begins to understand the necessity of not only love but monetary worth, “…but love was undependable, it came and then it went, so it was good to have a money value, because then at least those who wanted to make a profit from you would make sure you were fed enough and not damaged too much….there were many who had neither love nor a money value, and having one of these things was better than having nothing.” (Pg. 197, End of Birdcall)

Oryx, now named “SuSu”, and the children are shepherded to a major metropolitan city, nondescript save for being a smelly chaotic congested epicenter of tourist trade.  She and the other girls are put to work as flower girls, exploiting their inability to communicate and their meek exotic appearances to evoke pity and plentiful coinage out of affluent tourists, “Who could resist her? Not many of the foreigners. Her smile was perfect – not cocky or aggressive, but hesitant, shy, taking nothing for granted. It was a smile with no ill will in it: it contained no resentment, no envy, only the promise of heartfelt gratitude.” (Pg. 201, Roses) Oryx’s brother is ill-suited to this trade and is threatened with being sold to another less “benevolent” child trafficker who would either put his life in mortal danger, take him as a personal sex slave, or both. “Oryx saw her brother’s face darken and grow hard, and she wasn’t surprised when he ran away; and whether he was ever caught and punished Oryx never knew. Nor did she ask, because asking – she had now found out – would do no good” (Pg. 203, Roses)

In one form or another, Oryx has always had her life “owned” by someone else. Whether it was her parents, her village, Uncle En; Even the other child workers, who traded her among one another between their cramp sleeping room. So the day that Uncle En tells her to allow herself to be abducted by a foreigner instead of alerting the police is a day of major significance for her, because on that day Oryx  made the first step to crossing over into the threshold of physical and emotional power.

Oryx becomes the centerpiece in a sex grifting operation by Uncle En. She is lured by foreigners to faraway hotels for sex and, unbeknownst to them, being tailed by Uncle En. She then proceeds to engage in sexual foreplay with these tourists, only to be interrupted by Uncle En barging in to rescue her and threatening violence and police action. The tourists, terrorized by the threat of being locked up in an unwelcoming prison in a foreign country with now reliable way out, plead for their lives and throw enormous amounts of money at him to buy his silence, unaware of the scheme going on behind the scenes.

“So that became her game. She felt a little sorry for the men: although Uncle En said they deserved what happened to them and they were lucky he never called the police, she somewhat regretted her part. But at the same time she enjoyed it. It made her feel strong to know that the men thought that she was helpless but she was not.” (Pg. 206, Roses)

And just when Oryx had grasped after a shred of mutual power and affection with Uncle En, it is just as quickly dashed away. A tall man comes to the apartment where the children are housed  telling them that Uncle En has sold his business and they now belong to him and his associates now, likely a lie to cover up the truth that En’s body was found floating face down a dirty canal the other day.

The children are then transferred to a different location, a lush and expensive mansion where their diets and living conditions are drastically improved. But as Oryx adeptly says, “Everything has a price”. The name of the place they live in is called “Pixieland”.

It turns out her new owners are the creators of the “Tart of the Day” online series, the one that Jimmy and Crake find themselves watching in their reckless adolescent youth. In the movies, she and the other girls are subjected to all manner of depraved and humiliating sex acts, all of which Oryx cannot help but describe in a dry tone that borders on physical boredom.

Through her sexual favors with the camera-man Jack, Oryx learns how to read and speak in English, a skill which she sees as an appropriate trade because it has allowed her to speak with Jimmy and tell him her story.

Oryx’s blase attitude concerning her past as an indentured sex worker isn’t surprising  as it was the only life that she knew and even if she was capable of being aghast at the things that she had done or had been subjected to, that spark of an impulse was snuffed out and deafened a long time ago to cope. However, we also get the impression that despite her terse and emotionless narration of the past, she is not entirely proud to share her experiences with Jimmy, lest she lose the respect and affection she holds in his eyes. “More often than not she acted as if she wanted to protect him, form the image of herself – herself in the past. She liked to keep only the bright side of herself turned towards him. She liked to shine.” (Pg. 209, Pixieland Jazz)

Jimmy constantly interrupts her story in order to glean as much visual and physical information as possible, as though to somehow amass enough so as to one day find the men who “manipulated” her and seek out revenge as some unspoken form of personal repentance. It’s more than just anger at the manipulation of a loved one, it’s repressed guilt for the act of having watched this atrocities take place, masked as righteous retribution. Oryx tells Jimmy to let the past stay in the past, that it was a different time and a different place and there is already so much ugliness in the present. Despite all that has happened, Oryx manages to find the beauty of the world removed from it’s ugliness, if only to survive it.

“Why do you want to talk about ugly things?” she said.

Her voice was silvery, like a music box. She waved one hand in the air to dry the nails. “We should think only beautiful things, as much as we can. There is so much beautiful in the world if you look around. You are looking only at the dirt under your feet, Jimmy. It’s not good for you.”

She would never tell him.Why did this drive him so crazy?

“It wasn’t real sex, was it?” he asked. “In the movies. It was only acting. Wasn’t it?”

“But Jimmy, you should know. All sex is real.”

Oryx and Crake; Fan Cover Art by Angelica Alzona

(Next Installment: Oryx and Crake Chapter 7-8 (Sveltana-Asperger’s U.)

First Read: Oryx and Crake Chapter 4-6 (Crake-Roses)

The sections of Oryx and Crake comprising of the middle of Chapter 4 and onward into chapter 6  are chock-full of vivid sensory details, ghastly descriptions, startlingly elucid revelations, and chilling insights  into the darkest appetites of the human condition. All experienced through the perspective of  an otherwise dispassionate, disinterested adolescent Jimmy.

The reader is finally introduced to the infamous Crake (then known as Glenn), a classmate and  boyhood friend of Jimmy’s from the HelthWyzer enclave ,who appeared only a couple of months before his mother’s escape. A prodigal polymath, Crake exudes a mental sharpness, a cold detached wit divorced from human sentiment, and a keen intelligence whose appeal has a lasting influence on Jimmy’s behavior and self-image. “He generated awe – not an overwhelming amount of it, but enough. He exuded potential, but potential for what? Nobody knew, and so people were wary of him. All of this in his dark laconic clothing.” ( Pg.173, End of Crake)

Crake’s semi-misanthropic musings become more distressing and eerily on-point as his and Jimmy’s friendship develops.

In the chapter Brainfrizz, we learn more about the darker inscrutable routines of sensory desensitization the boys pursue and submit to, and how might the example of their callous spectating submission be indicative of the culture and world they live in. Twice a week, Jimmy and Crake meet up at Crake’s home to play video games revolving around crude caricatures of past atrocities and despots, (Kwiktime Osama, Barbarian Stomp, Bloods and Roses, EXTINCTATHON, etc.), combined with nihilistic depictions of how the legacy of the arts & sciences will ultimately be  negated by the cycle of Pyrrhic annihilation and societal malaise that perpetuates throughout history,

“That was the trouble with Blood and Roses: it was easier to remember the Blood stuff. The other trouble was that the Blood player usually won, but winning meant you inheirited a wasteland. This was the point of the game, said Crake, when Jimmy complained. Jimmy said that if that was the point, it was pretty pointless.” (Pg. 178, Brainfrizz)

We also finally learn the origin Crake’s name, a codename used between himself and Jimmy while playing the ecological disaster game EXTINCTATHON, a online trivia game centered around recently extinct animals such as the Rhino, Manatee, and the Komodo Dragon. Eventually the two become tired of these games, choosing instead to numb their senses by smoking pot stolen from Crake’s stepfather “Uncle Pete”, and by watching horrendous atrocities accessible through a pirated connection into the seediest bowels of the Internet.

Animal snuff films, live-broadcasted open-heart surgeries, ritual be-headings in Asia, public access executions of participating death-row inmates and televised assisted suicides of voluntary contestants; not to mention gratuitous amounts of horrifyingly hardcore BDSM porn. These depraved indulgences take on a ghastly form of poeticism through Jimmy’s desensitized descriptions. “But the body had its own cultural forms. It had it’s own art. Executions were its tragedies, pornography was its romance.” (Pg. 184, Brainfrizz)

While frequenting one of their usual porn destinations “Tart of the Day”, a site devoted to sexual masochism centered around the consumption of confections, Jimmy and Crake are finally introduced to the young woman whom they will one day come to know as Oryx.

“This was how the two of them first saw Oryx. She was only about eight, or she looked eight. They could never find out for certain how old she’d been then. Her name wasn’t Oryx, she didn’t have a name. She was just another little girl on a porno site.” (Pg. 193, HottTotts)

Oryx’s blithe on-screen demeanor and fierce appearance shake Jimmy tremendously out of his adolescent stupor of insensitivity, prompting him to feel ashamed for what he has done for the first time. “Jimmy felt burned by this look – eaten into, as if by acid. She’d been so contemptuous of him”  (Pg. 276, HottTotts). He and Crake become transfixed by this mysterious young girl, a girl they would not meet until she was already a young woman many years later, unashamed and equally indifferent to the things done by her and to her.

Already one can tell that there is a very strange contest of will and power tugging back and forth between Oryx, Crake, and Jimmy; with the casual and quick revelation that , under as-of-yet unknown circumstances,  Jimmy and Oryx might one day come to love one another. “Oh stolen secret picnics. Oh sweet delight. Oh clear memory, oh pure pain. Oh endless night.” (Pg. 287, Birdcall)

“Even in Snowman’s boyhood there were luminous green rabbits.”

Jumping back to the present, we see Snowman embarking on a pilgrimage to accept tributes of food in exchange for stories with the Children. This time we learn more about the Children of Oryx, a race of female counterparts to the male dominant Children of Crake. These children are Chlorophyll-skinned, Jelly fish luminescent beings with pale personalities and perfect complexions, devoid of physical flaw or fault.

This quality stirs up a complicated mixture of feelings in Snowman, who values and professes being sexually attracted to these supposed breaks from what is typically considered physical beauty, “It was the thumbprints of human imperfection that used to move him, the flaws in the design: the lopsided smile, the wart next to the navel, the bruise […] But these new women are neither lopsided or sad: they’re placid, like animated statues. they leave him chilled.” (Pg. 231, Fish)

Snowman has, by way of not only revising his own memories but actively rewriting the history of his relationship with Oryx and Crake, molded himself as being the sole prophet, historian, and living medium between the Children of Oryx and Crake and their namesakes, earning himself a special kind of reverence and authority that helps him to survive in this post-apocalyptic world.

Having woven an elaborate lore of half-truths and exaggerations about the origin of the world and of the children, Snowman has pulled bits and pieces out of the lives of himself and his late(?) friends in order to acquiesce some small measure of authority and influence. The children, who apparently had been “saved” by Snowman, supposedly have never talked to or met with their namesake forebears and so they hang on every word that Snowman tells them and accepts it as Dogma.

But with every subsequent lie, Snowman must be cautious in not contradicting himself lest the children become wise to his deception. “At first he’d improvised, but now they’re demanding dogma: he would deviate from orthodoxy at his peril. He might not lose his life – these people aren’t violent or given to bloodthirsty acts of retribution, or not so far – but he’d lose his audience.” (Pg. 246, Fish)

After the children have left him, Snowman proceeds to raid a nearby apartment building of anything resembling liquor in order to numb himself from the truth behind his deceptions. Defeated in his search, he finally decides to drink the last third of Scotch he had chosen to save up until then.

Perching himself in the canopy of a tall tree far from the ravenous Wolvogs (Wolf/Dog hybrids) circling him for an easy meal, Snowman drinks his scotch and drifts into a hallucination of Oryx perched alongside him in the tree, wrapped in darkness and tantalizingly within his reach,

“Oryx,” he says. “I know you’re there.” He repeats the name. It’s not even her real name, which he’d never known anyway; it’s only a word. It’s a mantra.” (Pg. 252,  End of Bottle)

“You know I love you. You’re the only one.” She isn’t the first woman he’s ever said that to. He shouldn’t have used it up so much earlier in his life, he should’t have treated it like a tool, a wedge, a key to open women. By the time he got around to meaning it, the words had sounded fraudulent to him and he’d been ashamed to pronounce them. (Pg. 255, Oryx)

Questions after reading:

  • We know when Jimmy and Crake first learn of Oryx, but how do they actually first meet?
  • What is the meaning behind Oryx’s name?
  • Why does Snowman hold so much resentment for Crake? Could it have something to do with Oryx?
  • Is Crake human; a eugenic experiment or just a fledgling sociopath?
  • How did Snowman “save” the Children of Oryx and Crake? Is it tied with the apocalyptic event that made this world?

Oryx and Crake; Fan Cover Art by Angelica Alzona

(Next Installment: Oryx and Crake Chapter 6-8 (Pixieland Jazz-Asperger’s U.)

First Read: Oryx and Crake Chapter 1-4 (Mango-Hammer)

“He undoes the plastic bag: there’s only one mango left. Funny, he remembered more.”

(It’s been nearly two months since I’ve updated this blog with a new article. That bothers me, as I have an extensive backlog of topic drafts that I’ve been meaning to revise and upload but whose priority has otherwise been overtaken by my commitments to school. So, instead of waiting for the storm of assignments and papers to blow over, I’ve decided to try and bridge the gap between the two. I’m currently reading Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood in my Contemporary World Lit. class. As I have not yet read it before and have heard such good things about it, I’ve decided to post my response assignments here, so as to extend my in-class conversations and reading observations into a digital space. Alright, feet first; Here we go.)

There’s a lot to cover in the first four(ish) chapters of this novel. The main character of O&C is the mysterious “Snowman”, a man who by all appearances seems to be the last normal human being living in a post-apocalyptic Earth ravaged by untold ecological disasters and runaway genetic technology. The Snowman is a pitiful character; a man plagued by bug bites, blisters, hunger, pent up sexual frustration, all the while trying to function and survive with a mind frayed at the corners by insanity.

Despite this, Snowman is surprisingly adept and  tenacious in maintaining his survival. Building temporary hammocks, insulated sleeping quarters to protect from acidic rain water and lightning, all conveniently within safe distance of the feral eugenic monstrosities that freely stalk and roam across the now abandoned post-human world.

Then there’s the mysterious but benign “Children of Crake”, green-eyed creatures who appear human in all but name who seek out and interact with the Snowman as though he were the last living relic of a now extinct race, the abominable boogey-man of the post-apocalyptic world.

Snowman, because of his fragile and fractured state of mind, must constantly reassess and sometimes revise his own memories in order to understand the world around him and how exactly things got to the way they are now, “He can’t recall ever having read such a thing  but that means nothing. there are a lot of blank spaces in his stub of a brain, where memory used to be.” (Pg. 36, End of Mango) These revisements come in the form of verbatim quotes from innocuous textbooks and irrelevant information that seems to have congealed into the inside of his memory, along with recollections of his early childhood and life which make up the majority of the story.

“Don’t fall in,” said his father. “They’ll eat you up in a minute.”
“No they won’t,” said Jimmy. Because I’m their friend, he thought.

Snowman’s real name is Jimmy, a boy who was born sometime after the turn of the century to eugenic engineers living in a corporate-sponsored think tank/enclave. The world outside, the so-called pleeblands, is teetering on the cusp of the apocalypse that the Snowman is now witnessing.

The world behind Jimmy’s life is rampant with corporate espionage, genetic warfare, organ farming, eugenic manipulation, capitalistically-obscured cannibalism, and general misery. But life within the corporate compounds is safe, people living lives of relative ease and comfort save for the special misery that they often afflict upon themselves.

Jimmy is caught in the middle of the marital strife of his father, a cheeky-grinned geneticist who has long since traded in his ethical scruples to fit into a life of conscious-less comfort and his Mother, a woman torn by her steadily deteriorating mental and emotional state who frequently lashes out at Jimmy only to attempt consoling him afterwards. The reader witnesses not only the abuse of his parent’s neglect, but Jimmy’s subsequent attempts at manipulating that neglect to his benefit. Cruelty comes in all kinds of forms.

Eventually his father is scouted for a position with another company (NooSkins, a eugenic skin-graft manufacturer)  and Jimmy’s family is relocated to a different enclave. The tension between his father and mother reaches its breaking point and she escapes the security of the CorpSe officers to defect to somewhere in the pleeblands, abandoning her son but not without stealing Jimmy’s genetically engineered pet rankunk (racoon skunk hybrid) in order to release it into the wild.

Jimmy’s father eventually recovers, shacks up with his doe-eyed number-crunching assistant Ramona, and Jimmy is left with only the occasional succinct, deliberately mis-named post cards from his fugitive mother to keep him company in the presence of his lingering guilt and grief that his very existence may have been the cause of all this turmoil.

Questions after reading:

  • What has happened to Oryx? Who or what are Oryx and Crake?
  • Has Crake asserted some kind of authority in this post-apocalyptic world? Given that genetic manipulation takes such a huge role in this book, are the “Children of Crake” his genetic descendants, or are they just the product of his own genetic tampering?
  • Who causes this apocalypse? Crake, or Snowman? Someone else?

Oryx and Crake; Fan Cover Art by Angelica Alzona

(Next Installment: Oryx and Crake Chapter 4-6 (Crake-Roses)