Oryx and Crake as "at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future." It's certainly the latter, but I must've missed the former. What love story? This is a safe bet: You'll never hear me complain about the lack of love story again, probably — but for a novel to set itself up like that, and then fail to deliver, was disappointing.
But, let's accentuate the positive: The dystopia Atwood imagines is, indeed, very compelling — the novel tells the story of childhood friends Crake and Jimmy. Crake is a scientific genius who fits in well with the decaying, stratified-by-class world that finds nothing ethically wrong with bio-engineering animals — and, eventually, humans. The story jumps back in forth in time — alternating between Jimmy and Crake's coming of age and early adulthood, and the post-apocalyptic world in which Jimmy (who now calls himself Snowman) finds himself. He's all alone, except for the "Crakers," the genetically engineered humans who think Snowman is a god, and how it came to be that way is the thrust of the novel.
So, what's the love-story angle, then? It starts like this: One day, when Jimmy and Crake are in high school, they're trolling around the Internet, looking for porn, as high school boys do, they come across a beautiful eight-year-old girl who, for reasons that Atwood never fully explains, deeply affects Jimmy. The girl (surprise, surprise) is Oryx, and she haunts his dreams. He loves her from the start. And for the life of me, even when she finally appears in the flesh in the novel, I couldn't understand why. What's she supposed to be a symbol of? Why is Jimmy so obsessed with her? Why does it matter?
Atwood is an elegant writer — this is actually the first time I've read her — once she gets going with this story (and it does take a while — a lot of the first hundred pages shows us Snowman lying around going, "Uh, this sucks,"), it really hums along. I read the last 200 pages in two sittings.
Perhaps because for me this was an effort in "branching out," I didn't enjoy this as much as most readers seem to. Again, the inventive dystopia and the idea of scrubbing ethics from science were intriguing enough to keep me turning pages quickly. But I just couldn't find my way totally into this. So, three stars from me, but I won't hate you if you hate me for not enjoying it.
On to The Year of the Flood...