I met Denise about a decade ago, in 2005, when I was working as an environmental consultant in Vancouver, British Columbia. My first e-book Collision with Paradise had just been released by Liquid Silver Books. It was a racy sensual hot bed of erotic science fiction adventure with a hot-shot lady pilot who crash lands on a jungle planet and falls in love with a purple alien. Francine interviewed me about the book and we somehow ended up talking about my favorite show, Farscape!
Ten years has gone by so fast! My son has left the nest and I’ve since moved around the country, spending some time in Nova Scotia and in Toronto where I currently teach writing at the University of Toronto and George Brown College. I now have eight novels out. The majority are eco-science fiction thrillers with environmental and technological themes and strong female characters with deep issues. The third book of my metaphysical space thriller The Splintered Universe is about to release (due on April 12, 2014). I also published my short story collection on evolution, Natural Selection, and two guidebooks on writing. Both were translated and published in Romania, where my father’s from. I visited Bucharest for the first time in 2011 to launch the Romanian version of The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now! and really enjoyed it.
It’s been an interesting 10-year journey and this year, the year of the horse (my year), is promising closure in many ways for my journey “home”. It’s only appropriate that Denise (Fleischer, GWN’s owner) and I have met again and I have returned to GWN. I hope you enjoy my reviews, essays and articles here.
Review of “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood
By Nina Munteanu
Margaret Atwood’s Booker Award nominee, “Oryx and Crake” is a sharp-edged, dark contemplative essay on the premise of where the myopia of greed, power and obsession with “self-image” and its outstripping of ethics and morality may take us. Replete with sordid subject matter and unlikeable but complex characters, Atwood’s gloomy post-apocalyptic tale follows the slow pace of introspection. It is a dark commentary rich with vivid, often viscerally provocative language, metaphor and symbolism.
“Oryx and Crake” is a dark “cautionary tale for a society addicted to vanity, greed and self.” Often sordid and disturbing, it depicts “an acquisitional era where everything from sex to learning is about power and ownership” (Sarah Barnett, Anglican Media). In her typical sharp-witted prose and edgy humor, Atwood “uses those rare birds, oryx and crake, like canaries in the mines,” says Victoria Bramworth of the Baltimore Sun, “to invoke a metaphor ― and warning ― for our times”.
The story begins with Jimmy, aka Snowman (as in Abominable), who lives a somnolent, disconsolate life in a post-apocalyptic world created by a worldwide biological catastrophe.
Slowly starving to death, Snowman’s mind leap frogs back and forth between his haunting memories of an abysmally amoral past to his present empty existence as the apparent sole survivor except for a group of naïve genetically-engineered youths. They are called the children of Crake, Crakers (after his best friend, who ― you guessed it ― created them) and they regard Snowman as their caretaker-prophet-demi-god. He spends a great deal of time wallowing in mourning for his beloved, Oryx, and best friend, Crake, as he searches for supplies in a wasteland where freakish genetically-engineered animals ravage the Pleeblands (where ordinary people used to live) and the Compounds (that used to shelter the extraordinary). His journey back to Crake’s high-tech facility, where the genesis of the Paradice Project was conceived, is Snowman’s journey “home” to his past, which unfolds insidiously like a twisted version of Adam and Eve: And the Lord God commanded. . . “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”(Book of Genesis). And there was much of that. Dying. Decaying. Suffering. It plays out like a warped tragedy written by a toked-up Shakespeare, with Crake as the self-proclaimed god and snake in one, Oryx his ill-fated Eve, and Jimmy a callow and ineffectual Adam. Jimmy more aptly fulfills the role of the court jester, the Fool (there always is one in a Shakespeare play and he often fulfills the role of commentator).
Atwood fittingly paints Jimmy this way. He is basically an unappealing jerk (like most Fools); a debauched, morally dubious individual whose “life and circumstances,” according to critic Sarah Barnett, “beg our sympathy but many readers may be reluctant to give it.” Yet, by the last third of the novel, I found myself indeed sympathizing with him, despite his shortcomings, which began to wither next to the soulless actions of his best friend. It is at the same time that I also noticed I was no longer “observing” the book but “participating” in it. Somewhere around page 280 (the book runs 378 pages) I began to get involved. Up until then the story was mostly an exercise in literary cleverness, sharp dark wit, and smartly turned phrases ― my reaction being: “Ah, that was clever, Margaret! I see your point, Margaret!” Never, “Oh, my God, what’s going to happen next?” My patience was vindicated in the last third of the book, however, when this cornucopia of documentary-style detail ironically provided me with a wealth of material to draw and feel pathos for Snowman’s cascading plight toward the book’s inevitable and tragic climax. Atwood cooly subverts the reader into accepting and viscerally experiencing her “mundane” world.
So, why did Jimmy incite my compassion? Perhaps it was the mother in me hoping he’d find his way, his connection with his soul and the heart of humanity. Even the mother who abandoned him (to pursue her principals) makes a last feeble effort to instill this in him in her final message to him: “I love you. Don’t let me down, Jimmy.”
Atwood’s astute command of the grim subject matter explored in “Oryx and Crake” provides an edgy realism that is not found in much traditional science fiction. I think this is largely due to Atwood’s mainstream literature background and to her virtuoso writing style (yes, including all that detail!). This is why it works, despite not being terribly original within a purely SF context. What Atwood brings to us that is more important than originality is her gritty realism and a tone of visceral immediacy. Oryx and Crake is a poignant commentary of our dysfunctional society of isolated, fearful people who have lost touch with what it is to be human. She has accurately captured a growing zeitgeist that has lost the need for words like honor, integrity, compassion, humility, forgiveness, respect and love in its vocabulary. And she has projected this trend into an alarmingly probable future. This is subversive SF at its best.
Atwood’s “Oryx & Crake” is a swift left hook in the gut from the darkness; for those willing to spend time reflecting on the dark poetry of Atwood’s smart and edgy slice-of-life commentary, there is much to gain in reading “Oryx and Crake”.
Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist and internationally published novelist of science fiction and fantasy. In addition to eight published novels, Nina has written short stories, articles and non-fiction books, which have been translated into several languages throughout the world. Recognition for her work includes the Midwest Book Review Reader’s Choice Award, finalist for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year Award, the SLF Fountain Award, and The Delta Optimist Reviewers Choice.
Nina regularly publishes reviews and essays in magazines such as The New York Review of Science Fiction and Strange Horizons. She serves as staff writer for several online and print magazines, and was assistant editor-in-chief of Imagikon, a Romanian speculative magazine. She is currently an editor of Europa SF, a zine dedicated to informing the European SF community and writes for Amazing Stories.
Nina teaches writing at the University of Toronto and George Brown College. She also gives writing workshops and courses based on her award-nominated guidebook “The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now!” (Starfire World Syndicate). The textbook is used in colleges and universities throughout North America and Europe. It was translated and published by Editura Paralela 45 in Romania. The next book in her writing guide series “The Journal Writer: Finding Your Voice” was released in winter of 2012 in Romanian by Editura Paralela 45 and in English in early 2013 by Starfire.
Nina shares her time between Toronto and Vancouver.
For more information about booking her workshops, online classes, individual consultations, or speaking appearances visit http://www.NinaMunteanu.com. Her award-winning blog The Alien Next Door hosts lively discussion on science, travel, pop culture, writing and movies. Visit www.ninamunteanu to find her teaching DVDs, webinars through Writer’s Digest University and other teaching materials.