Oryx and Crake

Oryx and CrakeSummary

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood paints a bleak view of the future. The main character, who goes by the name Snowman, believes he might be the only human left alive after a biological disaster. He is barely getting by, living on the remnants of the now non-existent society: cans of sausages, broken sunglasses, and warm bottles of beer when he can find them. He tends to a small group of genetically-modified humanoids while living in a tree to avoid artificially-created hybrid animals.

As the story progresses, Snowman reveals what led to the destruction of mankind through a series of flashbacks. When he was a boy (he was “Jimmy” back then), he lived in a corporate compound with his emotionally-absent parents, where he met Crake, a brilliant boy who would become Jimmy’s best friend. Everything had become so desensitized that in addition to playing computer games together, Jimmy and Crake also watched child pornography and live tortures and executions online. One of their favorite games is called Extinctathon, a game that ranks you based on your knowledge of extinct plants and animals. While browsing the Internet, they come across Oryx, a mysterious girl who secretly intrigues both Jimmy and Crake.

Review

I know Oryx and Crake has a lot of fans, but I thought it was just so/so. Some of the ideas were intriguing: genetic engineering, transhumanism, corporate compounds, living in a post-apocalyptic world, etc.

My main problem with the book was its odd characters who were hard to sympathize with. Jimmy is kind of a mopey, pathetic guy who plays a fairly passive role in the story (though I did like his interest in old words no one uses anymore). Oryx is mysterious and frequently described as “wisp-like”… a hard character to understand. Crake is an aloof and brilliant scientist who has his own way of seeing things.

Overall, I liked the book and wanted to find out what had happened… I just didn’t love it. :-/ *Shrugs*

Sequels

I should also mention that Oryx and Crake is the first book in a trilogy. The Year of the Flood takes place at the same time as the events in Oryx and Crake, but from a different perspective. MaddAddam, which was released this summer, is a continuation of the two previous novels.

The Giver Quartet

I first read The Giver in elementary school. It was probably my first taste of dystopian fiction and I loved it. When I saw The Giver on a Banned Books Week list last month and learned there were sequels, I decided to reread it, along with the other books in the series.

The Giver

The Giver

Summary: Eleven-year-old Jonas lives in a seemingly ideal community where people are content and free from pain and suffering. When Jonas is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory, he begins to learn the truth about his community.

Review: The Giver explores, among other things, the idea of individuality vs. “sameness.” In Jonas’s community, everyone is content and provided for, but they do not get to make their own decisions, experience true emotions, or even see color. It’s a thought-provoking book that I loved as a kid and I really enjoyed reading again.

Gathering Blue

Gathering Blue

Summary: In a village that sends the weak and disabled out to a field to die, Kira (an orphan girl with a deformed leg) is ostracized by her neighbors. Kira has a special gift, though, that will save her life.

Review: Gathering Blue was my least favorite book in the series. I was disappointed that it had no ties to The Giver until a brief allusion at the end of the book. Kira’s village was not nearly as interesting as Jonas’s community and Kira was too passive a character. I also thought the story was predictable.

Messenger

Messenger

Summary: After living in Village for six years with a blind man named Seer, Matty is eager to earn his true name and become a full member of society. Village is changing, though, and Matty the message-bearer must make one last journey through the treacherous forest before it’s too late.

Review: Picking up where Gathering Blue left off, Messenger tied the two previous books together and I was glad to get some resolution on what happened to Jonas and Gabe. I liked the book, but I was disappointed in the “somebody sacrificing to rid the world of evil and now everything’s magically better again” cliché.

Son

Son

Summary: Claire, a teenage Birthmother from Jonas’s original community, washes ashore in a distant village, remembering nothing of her life before. After watching someone give birth, she regains her memory and becomes determined to find the son she gave birth to years ago.

Review: Son started out strong, but, unfortunately, it went downhill from there. The book really got bogged down with all the time spent on Claire training to climb the cliff out of the village. When Claire finally found her son, I found it unbelievable that she wouldn’t reveal herself to him after spending so many years and risking her life to find him. The ending was also unsatisfying, but at least it tied everything from the series together.

Final Thoughts

I really liked The Giver and would recommend it to anyone, especially since it’s such a quick, easy read. If you’re interested in seeing what happens to the characters, by all means read the rest of the series, but I don’t think it’s necessary to continue reading it.

While writing this review, I found out that a movie version of The Giver is in production, scheduled to be released in August 2014. I’m really curious about how they’re going to film it. If it starts in black and white, the audience will know something is wrong prematurely. If it starts in color, Jonas’s discovery of color won’t be as impactful. It’ll be interesting to see how they handle that. I also wonder how they are going to end the movie, since the book’s ending was ambiguous.

The Handmaid’s Tale

Warning: Spoilers about the backstory below!

The Handmaid's TaleA terrorist attack blamed on Islamic extremists kills the president and wipes out most of Congress. A new movement called the “Sons of Jacob” takes over and revolutionizes the United States, turning it into a militarized, patriarchal, ultra-conservative, Christian-based religious society known as the Republic of Gilead.

Men and women in Gilead live very separate lives. Men have varying military roles and those at the top (the Commanders) are permitted to establish a household. Women are subservient to men and have domestic roles. A woman can be a Wife (married to a high-ranking man), Handmaid (bearer of children for the Wives), Aunt (instructor and supervisor of the Handmaids), Martha (domestic servant), or an Econowife (married to a low-ranking man).

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is told through the eyes of a woman valued only for reproduction, who witnessed the transformation of modern day America into the Republic of Gilead. It’s amazing how quickly and convincingly the radical societal revolution took place.

I love dystopian novels, so it’s not surprising that I enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale. I liked how I had to piece together what was happening and why as I was reading. It’s a terrifying prospect of what America could be like if right-wing, Christian fundamentalist ideologies are taken to the extreme: an oppressive, misogynistic theocracy.

Fahrenheit 451

Wow, I guess it’s been 2 months since my last book review, but it’s not because I haven’t been reading. After A Feast for Crows, I started to read a pretty sizable biography about Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really what I was in the mood for reading at the time, so I was slow in reading it. About 2/3 of the way through, Fahrenheit 451 became available for me at the library, so I put down the Thomas Jefferson biography and started to read it instead. I plan on getting back to the biography soon – probably not next, but soon. 😛

Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel written by Ray Bradbury. Although it’s a classic, this was my first time reading the book. Published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 depicts a future society in which books are illegal, firemen start fires rather than stop them, and people are “happy” living shallow, empty lives in front of the TV. The story centers around Guy Montag, a book-burning fireman who eventually learns the value of books and takes a stand to protect them.

The idea of the role of a fireman morphing from someone who puts out fires to one who starts them was really interesting. I also liked the symbolism of the phoenix at the end of the book, saying that although mankind destroys itself, it then gets reborn from the ashes.

It seems like a lot of people think this book is about censorship, but I’m not really convinced of that. For one thing, Captain Beatty says that it was the people themselves (not the government) who protested books and wanted them banned.

I think the main point of Fahrenheit 451 was not to live shallow lives, passively absorbing meaningless entertainment on TV. The people in the book speed past everything without stopping to enjoy the beauty along the way. Everything they do is on a superficial level; they don’t even bother to get to know their own family. Instead, Bradbury encourages the reader to slow down and think, look around and appreciate life, and make a difference in the world.

I think Bradbury was wrong about one thing, though. He was very critical of technology and he refused for Fahrenheit 451 to be published as en eBook until shortly before his death last year. In Fahrenheit 451, though, he wrote about how it’s the contents of the book and not the book itself that’s important:

It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books… The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios, and televisors, but are not. No, no it’s not books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type or receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget. There is nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.

While I love and appreciate physical copies of books, I also really enjoy the convenience and portability of eBooks. I’m glad Bradbury finally consented to letting his book be published electronically (which is how I read it), because it’s what’s in the book that matters.