Rio Hondo College Newspaper

El Paisano

Oryx and Crake: Explore Atwood’s speculative scientific world

Yiyun Zhang, Senior Staff Writer

“The science fiction fantasy is the kind with dragons, but you can’t have speculative fiction with dragon stories””

— Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s first book of her best selling trilogy, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003 and has received profound applause from the crowd. While readers were suspicious about the technology described by the book when it was published a decade ago, as the time goes on, some of the scientific ideas occurred in the novel are actually taking place in the real world right now.

Atwood defines her work as “speculative fiction” and emphasizes that it is very different from science fiction. Even though some people still consider speculative fiction belongs the the category of science fiction, Atwood believes otherwise.

“The science fiction fantasy is the kind with dragons, but you can’t have speculative fiction with dragon stories,” said Atwood during one interview of the third book of trilogy, MaddAddam.

And that is why this type of novel is fascinating in many people’s perspectives. It does not bring readers into a virtual world where everything is clearly non-existent in the real world, rather, the book offers you a virtual reality that seems ridiculous at first, but is either happening in the real world now, or will be soon taking place in the future.

It is definitely an exciting reading experience, but at the same time, it provokes questions and thoughts in the readers‘ minds about the things happening in the real world.

One of the ideas Atwood talks about in Oryx and Crake is genetic engineering. In the past, genetic engineering seemed impossible because of the limit in technology, but right now the area of Bio-engineering has grown rapidly in the past few years and is affecting our every day lives.

In the book, the main character Jimmy-the-Snowman lives in a compound by a company that is working on a pigoon project. The novel describes that the goal of the pigoon project was “to grow an assortment of foolproof human tissue organs in a transgenic knockout pig host – organs that would transplant smoothly and avoid rejection, but would also be able to fend off attacks by opportunistic microbes and viruses, of which there were more strains every year.”

It is clearly striking that the pigoon project described in the book has a lot of similarities of what scientists are trying to do today. Right now, researchers in our world are working on a project that aims to transplant pig’s heart into the human body.

Francie Dep, one of the pop science journalists, stated that the researchers of the pig heart transplantation “specially engineered its pigs to have some human genes and to lack some pig genes.” Certainly, scientists today are already “playing god” by modifying genes, but will it entirely be a good thing?

The negative effects of such genetic engineering is also demonstrated in the novel. One of the intelligent friends of Jimmy-the-Snowman, Crake, also utilizes the skills of genetic engineering and causes lethal problems in the human race. He genetically modified the genes of humans and created the so-called “perfect” human race, Crakers, in his perspective.

The Crakers, unlike humans, do not need to starve nor to die, or face any romantic issues. Rather, they lack understanding of the outside world and seem un-caring and un-living because they don’t need everything to pursue and to aim for. However, in the readers’ perspective, such human-like creatures are not human being at all.

It has no doubt that the scientists today probably already have skills to genetically modify animals cells, or even human cells. While it creates an ethical problem that might threaten the entire human race, people’s mind of seeking perfection will never stop.

As time goes on, our human race will not only receive benefits from the advancing science, but also will face the problem of controlling the extent of the technology to avoid disasters for our race.

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Oryx and Crake: Explore Atwood’s speculative scientific world