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Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood


  Oryx and Crake

  "A compelling futuristic vision.... Oryx and Crake carries itself with a refreshing lightness.... Its shrewd pacing neatly balances action and exposition.... What gives the book a deeper resonance is its humanity."


  "[A] stunning new novel--possibly her best since The Handmaid's Tale."

  --Time Out New York

  "A delightful amalgam for the sophisticated reader: Her perfectly placed prose, poetic language and tongue-in-cheek tone are ubiquitous throughout, as if an enchanted nanny is telling one a dark bedtime story of alienation and ruin while lovingly stroking one's head."


  "Truly remarkable.... As fun as it is dark.... A feast of realism, science fiction, satire, elegy and then some.... Atwood has concocted here an all-too-possible vision.... [She is] a master."

  --The News & Observer (Raleigh, North Carolina) "A roll of dry, black, parodic laughter.... One of the year's most surprising novels." --The Economist

  "Sublime.... Good, solid, Swiftian science fiction from a ... literary artist par excellence."

  --The Denver Post

  "Dances with energy and sophisticated gallows humor.... [Atwood's] wry wit makes dystopia fun."


  "A crackling read.... Atwood is one of the most impressively ambitious writers of our time."

  --The Guardian

  "Gorgeously written, full of eyeball-smacking images and riveting social and scientific commentary.... A cunning and engrossing book by one of the great masters of the form."

  --The Buffalo News

  "A powerful vision.... Very readable."

  --The New York Times Book Review

  "Brilliant, impossible to put down.... Atwood ... is at once commanding and enchanting. Piercingly intelligent and piquantly witty, highly imaginative and unfailingly compassionate, she is a spoonful-of-sugar storyteller, concealing the strong and necessary medicine of her stinging social commentary within the balm of dazzlingly complicated and compelling characters and intricate and involving predicaments."

  --The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

  "Original and chilling.... Powerful, inventive, playful and difficult to resist."

  --Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  "Brilliantly constructed.... Jimmy and Crake grip like characters out of Greek tragedy.... Atwood herself is one of our finest linguistic engineers. Her carefully calibrated sentences are formulated to hook and paralyse the reader."

  --The Daily Telegraph

  "Atwood does not disappoint." --The Dallas Morning News

  "Gripping.... Bursts with invention and mordant wit, none of which slows down its headlong pace.... Atwood is in sleek form.... [Her] prescience is unsettling."

  --St. Petersburg Times

  "Biting, black humor and absorbing storytelling.... Atwood entices."

  --USA Today

  "Compelling.... Packed with fascinating ideas.... Her most accessible book in years, a gripping, unadorned story."

  --The Onion

  "This superlatively gripping and remarkably imagined book joins The Handmaid's Tale in the distinguished company of novels (The Time Machine, Brave New World and 1984) that look ahead to warn us about the results of human shortsightedness."

  --The Times (London)

  "Absorbing.... Atwood has not lost her touch for following the darker paths of speculative fiction--she easily creates a believable, contained future world."

  --Seattle Weekly

  "Engrossing.... A novel of ideas, narrated with an almost scientific dispassion and a caustic, distanced humor. The prose is fast and clean."

  --Rocky Mountain News

  "Riveting and thought-provoking.... Keen and cutting.... [Atwood] has grown into one of the most consistently imaginative and masterful fiction writers writing in English today."

  --Richmond Times-Dispatch


  Oryx and Crake

  Margaret Atwood is the author of more than thirty-five works of fiction, poetry, and essays, published in more than forty countries. Her most recent works include the Booker Prize-winning novel The Blind Assassin and Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing. Ms. Atwood lives in Toronto.

  by Margaret Atwood


  The Edible Woman (1969) Surfacing (1972)

  Lady Oracle (1976)

  Dancing Girls (1977)

  Life Before Man (1979)

  Bodily Harm (1981)

  Murder in the Dark (1983) Bluebeard's Egg (1983)

  The Handmaid's Tale (1985) Cat's Eye (1988)

  Wilderness Tips (1991)

  Good Bones (1992)

  The Robber Bride (1993) Alias Grace (1996)

  The Blind Assassin (2000) Good Bones and Simple Murders (2001) Oryx and Crake (2003)


  Up in the Tree (1978)

  Anna's Pet [with Joyce Barkhouse] (1980) For the Birds (1990)

  Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut (1995) Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes (2003)


  Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972) Days of the Rebels 1815-1840 (1977) Second Words (1982)

  Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature (1996) Two Solicitudes: Conversations [with Victor-Levy Beaulieu] (1998) Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing (2002)


  Double Persephone (1961) The Circle Game (1966)

  The Animals in That Country (1968) The Journals of Susanna Moodie (1970) Procedures for Underground (1970) Power Politics (1971)

  You Are Happy (1974)

  Selected Poems (1976)

  Two-Headed Poems (1978) True Stories (1981)

  Interlunar (1984)

  Selected Poems II: Poems Selected and New 1976-1986 (1986) Morning in the Burned House (1995)


  Copyright (c) 2003 by O. W. Toad, Ltd.

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Nan A. Talese, an imprint of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, in 2003.

  Anchor Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the Nan A. Talese/Doubleday edition as follows:

  Atwood, Margaret Eleanor, 1939-

  Oryx and Crake / Margaret Atwood.--1st ed.

  p. cm.

  1. Triangles (Interpersonal relations)--Fiction.

  2. Genetic engineering--Fiction. 3. New York (State)--Fiction.

  4. Male friendship--Fiction. I. Title.

  PR9199.3.A8 O7 2003



  eISBN: 978-1-40007898-1


  For my family

  I could perhaps like others have astonished you with strange improbable tales; but I rather chose to relate plain matter of fact in the simplest manner and style; because my principal design was to inform you, and not to amuse you.

  Jonathan Swift,

  Gulliver's Travels

  Was there no safety? No learning by heart of the ways of the world? No guide, no shelter, but all was miracle and leaping from the pinnacle of a tower into the air?

  Virginia Woolf,

To the Lighthouse



  About the Author

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page




  Mango ~ Flotsam ~ Voice


  Bonfire ~ OrganInc Farms ~ Lunch


  Nooners ~ Downpour


  Rakunk ~ Hammer ~ Crake ~ Brainfrizz ~ HottTotts


  Toast ~ Fish ~ Bottle


  Oryx ~ Birdcall ~ Roses ~ Pixieland Jazz


  Sveltana ~ Purring ~ Blue


  SoYummie ~ Happicuppa ~ Applied Rhetoric ~ Asperger's U. ~ Wolvogs ~ Hypothetical ~ Extinctathon


  Hike ~ RejoovenEsense


  Vulturizing ~ AnooYoo ~ Garage ~ Gripless


  Pigoons ~ Radio ~ Rampart


  Pleebcrawl ~ BlyssPluss ~ MaddAddam ~ Paradice ~ Crake in Love ~ Takeout ~ Airlock


  Bubble ~ Scribble ~ Remnant


  Idol ~ Sermon








  Snowman wakes before dawn. He lies unmoving, listening to the tide coming in, wave after wave sloshing over the various barricades, wish-wash, wish-wash, the rhythm of heartbeat. He would so like to believe he is still asleep.

  On the eastern horizon there's a greyish haze, lit now with a rosy, deadly glow. Strange how that colour still seems tender. The offshore towers stand out in dark silhouette against it, rising improbably out of the pink and pale blue of the lagoon. The shrieks of the birds that nest out there and the distant ocean grinding against the ersatz reefs of rusted car parts and jumbled bricks and assorted rubble sound almost like holiday traffic.

  Out of habit he looks at his watch - stainless-steel case, burnished aluminum band, still shiny although it no longer works. He wears it now as his only talisman. A blank face is what it shows him: zero hour. It causes a jolt of terror to run through him, this absence of official time. Nobody nowhere knows what time it is.

  "Calm down," he tells himself. He takes a few deep breaths, then scratches his bug bites, around but not on the itchiest places, taking care not to knock off any scabs: blood poisoning is the last thing he needs. Then he scans the ground below for wildlife: all quiet, no scales and tails. Left hand, right foot, right hand, left foot, he makes his way down from the tree. After brushing off the twigs and bark, he winds his dirty bedsheet around himself like a toga. He's hung his authentic-replica Red Sox baseball cap on a branch overnight for safekeeping; he checks inside it, flicks out a spider, puts it on.

  He walks a couple of yards to the left, pisses into the bushes. "Heads up," he says to the grasshoppers that whir away at the impact. Then he goes to the other side of the tree, well away from his customary urinal, and rummages around in the cache he's improvised from a few slabs of concrete, lining it with wire mesh to keep out the rats and mice. He's stashed some mangoes there, knotted in a plastic bag, and a can of Sveltana No-Meat Cocktail Sausages, and a precious half-bottle of Scotch - no, more like a third - and a chocolate-flavoured energy bar scrounged from a trailer park, limp and sticky inside its foil. He can't bring himself to eat it yet: it might be the last one he'll ever find. He keeps a can opener there too, and for no particular reason an ice pick; and six empty beer bottles, for sentimental reasons and for storing fresh water. Also his sunglasses; he puts them on. One lens is missing but they're better than nothing.

  He undoes the plastic bag: there's only a single mango left. Funny, he remembered more. The ants have got in, even though he tied the bag as tightly as he could. Already they're running up his arms, the black kind and the vicious little yellow kind. Surprising what a sharp sting they can give, especially the yellow ones. He rubs them away.

  "It is the strict adherence to daily routine that tends towards the maintenance of good morale and the preservation of sanity," he says out loud. He has the feeling he's quoting from a book, some obsolete, ponderous directive written in aid of European colonials running plantations of one kind or another. 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. Rubber plantations, coffee plantations, jute plantations. (What was jute?) They would have been told to wear solar topis, dress for dinner, refrain from raping the natives. It wouldn't have said raping. Refrain from fraternizing with the female inhabitants. Or, put some other way ...

  He bets they didn't refrain, though. Nine times out of ten.

  "In view of the mitigating," he says. He finds himself standing with his mouth open, trying to remember the rest of the sentence. He sits down on the ground and begins to eat the mango.



  On the white beach, ground-up coral and broken bones, a group of the children are walking. They must have been swimming, they're still wet and glistening. They should be more careful: who knows what may infest the lagoon? But they're unwary; unlike Snowman, who won't dip a toe in there even at night, when the sun can't get at him. Revision: especially at night.

  He watches them with envy, or is it nostalgia? It can't be that: he never swam in the sea as a child, never ran around on a beach without any clothes on. The children scan the terrain, stoop, pick up flotsam; then they deliberate among themselves, keeping some items, discarding others; their treasures go into a torn sack. Sooner or later - he can count on it - they'll seek him out where he sits wrapped in his decaying sheet, hugging his shins and sucking on his mango, in under the shade of the trees because of the punishing sun. For the children - thick-skinned, resistant to ultraviolet - he's a creature of dimness, of the dusk.

  Here they come now. "Snowman, oh Snowman," they chant in their singsong way. They never stand too close to him. Is that from respect, as he'd like to think, or because he stinks?

  (He does stink, he knows that well enough. He's rank, he's gamy, he reeks like a walrus - oily, salty, fishy - not that he's ever smelled such a beast. But he's seen pictures.)

  Opening up their sack, the children chorus, "Oh Snowman, what have we found?" They lift out the objects, hold them up as if offering them for sale: a hubcap, a piano key, a chunk of pale-green pop bottle smoothed by the ocean. A plastic BlyssPluss container, empty; a ChickieNobs Bucket O'Nubbins, ditto. A computer mouse, or the busted remains of one, with a long wiry tail.

  Snowman feels like weeping. What can he tell them? There's no way of explaining to them what these curious items are, or were. But surely they've guessed what he'll say, because it's always the same.

  "These are things from before." He keeps his voice kindly but remote. A cross between pedagogue, soothsayer, and benevolent uncle - that should be his tone.

  "Will they hurt us?" Sometimes they find tins of motor oil, caustic solvents, plastic bottles of bleach. Booby traps from the past. He's considered to be an expert on potential accidents: scalding liquids, sickening fumes, poison dust. Pain of odd kinds.

  "These, no," he says. "These are safe." At this they lose interest, let the sack dangle. But they don't go away: they stand, they stare. Their beachcombing is an excuse. Mostly they want to look at him, because he's so unlike them. Every so often they ask him to take off his sunglasses and put them on again: they want to see whether he has two eyes really, or three.

  "Snowman, oh Snowman," they're singing, less to him than to one another. To them his name is just two syllables. They don't know what a snowman is, they've never seen snow.

  It was one of Crake's rules that no name could be chosen for which a physical equivalent - even stuffed, even skeletal - could not be demonstrated. No unicorns, no griffins, no manticores or basilisks. But those rules no longer apply, and it's given Snowman a bitter pleasure to adopt th
is dubious label. The Abominable Snowman - existing and not existing, flickering at the edges of blizzards, apelike man or manlike ape, stealthy, elusive, known only through rumours and through its backward-pointing footprints. Mountain tribes were said to have chased it down and killed it when they had the chance. They were said to have boiled it, roasted it, held special feasts; all the more exciting, he supposes, for bordering on cannibalism.

  For present purposes he's shortened the name. He's only Snowman. He's kept the abominable to himself, his own secret hair shirt.

  After a few moments of hesitation the children squat down in a half-circle, boys and girls together. A couple of the younger ones are still munching on their breakfasts, the green juice running down their chins. It's discouraging how grubby everyone gets without mirrors. Still, they're amazingly attractive, these children - each one naked, each one perfect, each one a different skin colour - chocolate, rose, tea, butter, cream, honey - but each with green eyes. Crake's aesthetic.

  They're gazing at Snowman expectantly. They must be hoping he'll talk to them, but he isn't in the mood for it today. At the very most he might let them see his sunglasses, up close, or his shiny, dysfunctional watch, or his baseball cap. They like the cap, but don't understand his need for such a thing - removable hair that isn't hair - and he hasn't yet invented a fiction for it.

  They're quiet for a bit, staring, ruminating, but then the oldest one starts up. "Oh Snowman, please tell us - what is that moss growing out of your face?" The others chime in. "Please tell us, please tell us!" No nudging, no giggling: the question is serious.

  "Feathers," he says.

  They ask this question at least once a week. He gives the same answer. Even over such a short time - two months, three? He's lost count - they've accumulated a stock of lore, of conjecture about him: Snowman was once a bird but he's forgotten how to fly and the rest of his feathers fell out, and so he is cold and he needs a second skin, and he has to wrap himself up. No: he's cold because he eats fish, and fish are cold. No: he wraps himself up because he's missing his man thing, and he doesn't want us to see. That's why he