Oryx and Crake: Group Read August 2008

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Oryx and Crake: Group Read August 2008

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1kaelirenee
Jul 31, 2008, 1:16pm

OK, I know it's a bit early (and I haven't even reread it yet!), but I thought I'd post the book discussion questions I found for Oryx and Crake, to get the brain motors started before we start the discussions.

Questions from the Publisher's Reader's Guide:
1. Oryx and Crake includes many details that seem futuristic, but are in fact already apparent in our world. What parallels were you able to draw between the items in the world of the novel and those in your own?

2. Margaret Atwood coined many words and brand names while writing the novel. In what way has technology changed your vocabulary over the past five years?

3. The game "Extinctathon" emerges as a key component in the novel. Jimmy and Crake also play "Barbarian Stomp" and "Blood and Roses." What comparable video games do you know of? What is your opinion of arcades that feature virtual violence? Discuss the advantages and dangers of virtual reality. Is the novel form itself a sort of virtual reality?

4. If you were creating the game "Blood and Roses," what other "Blood" items would you add? What other "Rose" items?

5. If you had the chance to fabricate an improved human being, would you do it? If so, what features would you choose to incorporate? Why would these be better than what we've got? Your model must of course be biologically viable.

6. The pre-catastrophic society in Oryx and Crake is fixated on physical perfection and longevity, much as our own society is. Discuss the irony of these quests, both within the novel and in our own society.

7. One aspect of the novel's society is the virtual elimination of the middle class. Economic and intellectual disparities, as well as the disappearance of safe public space, allow for few alternatives: People live either in the tightly controlled Compounds of the elites, or in the more open but seedier and more dangerous Pleeblands. Where would your community find itself in the world of Oryx and Crake?

8. Snowman soon discovers that despite himself he's invented a new creation myth, simply by trying to think up comforting answers to the "why" questions of the Children of Crake. In Part Seven-the chapter entitled "Purring"-Crake claims that "God is a cluster of neurons," though he's had trouble eradicating religious experiences without producing zombies. Do you agree with Crake? Do Snowman's origin stories negate or enhance your views on spirituality and how it evolves among various cultures?

9. How might the novel change if narrated by Oryx? Do any similarities exist between her early life and Snowman's? Do you always believe what she says?

10. Why does Snowman feel compelled to protect the benign Crakers, who can't understand him and can never be his close friends? Do you believe that the Crakers would be capable of survival in our own society?

11. In the world of Oryx and Crake, almost everything is for sale, and a great deal of power is now in the hands of large corporations and their private security forces. There are already more private police in North America than there are public ones. What are the advantages of such a system? What are the dangers?

12. In what ways does the dystopia of Oryx and Crake compare to those depicted in novels such as Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale? What is the difference between speculative fiction-which Atwood claims to write-and science fiction proper?

13. The book has two epigraphs, one from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and one from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. Why do you think these were chosen?

14. The ending of the novel is open, allowing for tantalizing speculation. How do you envision Snowman's future? What about the future of humanity-both within the novel, and outside its pages?

3streamsong
Ago 3, 2008, 11:14am

Thank you for the interesting questions to think about as we read.

Since I'm new to this board and don't know how it works, will we be discussing the book in sections or as a whole?

4kaelirenee
Ago 3, 2008, 3:22pm

We've only done this once before, with Handmaid's Tale. Check out the link for that to see how we did it then. :)

5torontoc
Ago 14, 2008, 9:26am

No one has posted about the book so here it goes. I put off reading this book as I usually don't like science fiction and that was the description of Oryx and Crake that I heard. I recently reread The Handmaid's Tale and thought that it was an excellent book. I thought that it was chilling in that the attitudes of Atwood's fictional society seemed to have some real parallels with today's current events. Oryx and Crake has those same qualities in the power of corporations and, the disparity between the very privileged and the poor. Atwood is a fabulous storyteller. The revealing of the story kept me glued to the book. ( sorry for the cliche but it works) I believe that Oryx and Crake doesn't resonate the way The Handmaid's Tale does for me. However, Atwood's look into the future allows me to compare events and actions of today with that of her visions.As we see with the environmental crisis, events in nature seem to occur quite quickly. Atwood's books should be a wake up call to the abuses of nature and society that are happening today.

6streamsong
Editado: Ago 17, 2008, 11:46am

I've finished reading this too, and posted my review.

This one was very powerful to me--the best of Atwood's books that I've read.

In one of the interviews with Ms Atwood, she says yes, that the novel is partially about genetic engineering, but is actually about so much more.

One of the main themes I see involves people as obects and their valuation according to how much they can earn for someone else. We see this in the child sex industry, the science and math versus word people, the walled compounds where those valued by corporations live versus the pleeblands, in the televised execution of criminals (who are paid better if everyone puts on a show) and suicides desparately trying to be seen as not part of the faceless mass.

This is echoed in the genetically engineered animals--get rid of anything that isn't profitable. The extreme case are the chickens engineered so have multiple breasts sprouting like tumors and no brain at all.

We see another echo in the environment where environmental deterioration is ignored in favor of profit.

In choosing to genetically engineer humans and wiping out the old style humanity, Crake does the ultimate objectifcation. Wipe out the old experiment and start over! Crake believes that the human race is irredeemable and the only way to remedy it is to begin anew over with a human race that has no motive for profit: none of those pesky traits such as love and recognition of God that make humans competitive and acquisitive.

Harking back to their adolescent game, he has chosen to remove those traits that contribute to the Blood atrocities--(and totally objectfying people into economic units is as much an atrocity as genocide). As he had learned as a boy, Blood can always win.

Unfortunately by removing these traits, he has also willingly removed humanity's capacity for great accomplishments--the Roses of the old game.

But something about humanity can't be denied. Singing seems to be hardwired into the Crakers. Crake couldn't remove the singing no matter how hard he tried. He feared art might re-emerge and mentions to Snowman that it's something to be watched for. The Crakers show signs that the recognition of God is also innate.

It's interesting to me that Crake chose a word person to be the Crakers' protector in the New World. Crake, the scientist, is as extinct as the Crake he is named for. Oryx, the beautiful extinct gazelle, lives in the now and denies evidence before her. She is also gone. The word person lives on.

Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

7ejd0626
Ago 18, 2008, 11:24pm

I just finished Oryx and Crake, so I thought I'd get started on these questions.

1. Oryx and Crake includes many details that seem futuristic, but are in fact already apparent in our world. What parallels were you able to draw between the items in the world of the novel and those in your own? What is so scary about this novel is how timely and relevant it really is. I just read an article in Bitch magazine about fertility treatments and how technology is changing the ways in which people are conceiving children. Now it is very possible to order a "designer baby" from a sperm bank. Just as Crake engineered his Crakers to be what he imagined perfect humans to be, parents are doing much of the same. It is scary. Also, genetic engineering in food is very common.

2. Margaret Atwood coined many words and brand names while writing the novel. In what way has technology changed your vocabulary over the past five years? Technology has changed all of our vocabularies in the past few years. Verbs like "google" are new and ubiquitous in our society.

3. The game "Extinctathon" emerges as a key component in the novel. Jimmy and Crake also play "Barbarian Stomp" and "Blood and Roses." What comparable video games do you know of? What is your opinion of arcades that feature virtual violence? Discuss the advantages and dangers of virtual reality. Is the novel form itself a sort of virtual reality? This is a hard question for me. I don't know if the novel form is a sort of virtual reality. I don't think that it is in the way that it was in the book. I think that the games which Jimmy & Crake played most definitely shaped their views of humanity. In the same way, we are being shaped by our video games and studies show that children who play violent video games are desensitized to violence. I think this can be seen in the ways in which Jimmy & Oryx kept reaching for increasingly risque and violent material.

4. If you were creating the game "Blood and Roses," what other "Blood" items would you add? What other "Rose" items?

5. If you had the chance to fabricate an improved human being, would you do it? If so, what features would you choose to incorporate? Why would these be better than what we've got? Your model must of course be biologically viable.

6. The pre-catastrophic society in Oryx and Crake is fixated on physical perfection and longevity, much as our own society is. Discuss the irony of these quests, both within the novel and in our own society.

7. One aspect of the novel's society is the virtual elimination of the middle class. Economic and intellectual disparities, as well as the disappearance of safe public space, allow for few alternatives: People live either in the tightly controlled Compounds of the elites, or in the more open but seedier and more dangerous Pleeblands. Where would your community find itself in the world of Oryx and Crake? I think very few would actually live in the Compounds of the Elites. The majority would live in the Pleeblands. Since we don't actually see the Pleeblands but once, I wonder how dangerous they truly were. I think that Jimmy & Crake were very much scared of the "other" and so they exoticized the idea of the Pleeblands.

8. Snowman soon discovers that despite himself he's invented a new creation myth, simply by trying to think up comforting answers to the "why" questions of the Children of Crake. In Part Seven-the chapter entitled "Purring"-Crake claims that "God is a cluster of neurons," though he's had trouble eradicating religious experiences without producing zombies. Do you agree with Crake? Do Snowman's origin stories negate or enhance your views on spirituality and how it evolves among various cultures? I found it interesting how Snowman/Jimmy actually gives the Crakers their own version of God. His origin stories actually enhance my views of spirituality. I like that despite the fact that the Crakers were blank slates & were engineered to not experience any type of religious experience, they still did. Despite Crake's best efforts, the Crakers still managed to create a sort of God. He couldn't engineer that out of them.

9. How might the novel change if narrated by Oryx? Do any similarities exist between her early life and Snowman's? Do you always believe what she says? I had trouble w/ the character of Oryx. I don't feel like Atwood gave the reader much with her. We don't understand her at all or her motivations. Why is she w/ Jimmy at all? And why do both Crake & Jimmy find her so alluring? We don't know. She is very much a mystery.

10. Why does Snowman feel compelled to protect the benign Crakers, who can't understand him and can never be his close friends? Do you believe that the Crakers would be capable of survival in our own society? I don't know why Jimmy feels the need to protect the Crakers, however I don't think that they would survive in our society. However, I do think that if left alone, they would eventually evolve into understanding like humans do. As they started to conceptualize God & really think on their own, they would understand more abstract concepts.

11. In the world of Oryx and Crake, almost everything is for sale, and a great deal of power is now in the hands of large corporations and their private security forces. There are already more private police in North America than there are public ones. What are the advantages of such a system? What are the dangers? I see more dangers to this kind of system. Privatizing everything seems to take away many fundamental rights we enjoy in American society. The police powers seemed to be omniscient & knew what Jimmy's mother was up to. They were able to track Jimmy all of the time. That is scary. I see parallels in our own government.

12. In what ways does the dystopia of Oryx and Crake compare to those depicted in novels such as Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale? What is the difference between speculative fiction-which Atwood claims to write-and science fiction proper?

13. The book has two epigraphs, one from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and one from Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. Why do you think these were chosen?

14. The ending of the novel is open, allowing for tantalizing speculation. How do you envision Snowman's future? What about the future of humanity-both within the novel, and outside its pages? I don't know. I think either Jimmy & the people he found could die & the Crakers could take over. Or, alternatively, they could live & repopulate the earth & the same cycle could start all over again. I like how Atwood left this open to the readers' interpretation.

8streamsong
Ago 20, 2008, 1:07pm

ejd0626 wrote Since we don't actually see the Pleeblands but once, I wonder how dangerous they truly were. I think that Jimmy & Crake were very much scared of the "other" and so they exoticized the idea of the Pleeblands.

This is a very interesting insight and one that I missed entirely. Catagorizing the pleeblanders and pleeblands into one homogenous group is certainly one more example of 'objectification' of humans into discrete catagories.

Oryx is very hard for me, too. And yet, from her position in the title, I feel that she has a pivotal role that I'm overlooking.

9ejd0626
Ago 20, 2008, 3:25pm

I agree w/ you about Oryx. Perhaps she is another example of objectification--Crake & Jimmy both projected what they wanted in a woman onto her. She didn't really have her own personality and merely reflected both of their desires.

10Nickelini
Ago 20, 2008, 11:47pm

#8 - ejd0626 wrote Since we don't actually see the Pleeblands but once, I wonder how dangerous they truly were. I think that Jimmy & Crake were very much scared of the "other" and so they exoticized the idea of the Pleeblands.

This is a very interesting insight and one that I missed entirely. Catagorizing the pleeblanders and pleeblands into one homogenous group is certainly one more example of 'objectification' of humans into discrete catagories.
-----------

Yes, I missed this one too. It's a very interesting thought.

11ejd0626
Ago 21, 2008, 1:01am

http://www.ksl.com/index.php?nid=148&sid=4055540

I saw this newsstory about a man who killed himself on a webcam & immediately drew a parallel to Oryx and Crake.

12fannyprice
Ago 24, 2008, 10:56am

I just started on this today and hope to finish it soon and then jump into the discussion!

13fannyprice
Ago 24, 2008, 11:54pm

>9 ejd0626:, "Perhaps she is another example of objectification--Crake & Jimmy both projected what they wanted in a woman onto her. She didn't really have her own personality and merely reflected both of their desires." That's a very good insight and one that I really agree with. I found it disturbing how Jimmy seemed to constantly be trying to connect Oryx with various exploited girls and women that he had seen in the past - I couldn't figure this part out. Did he need her to be damaged because he liked women he thought he could save? Or did he need her to be them because of some titillation that he got from thinking about her experiencing exploitation? I'm not sure, but I found this whole element quite disturbing.

>8 streamsong:, "Oryx is very hard for me, too. And yet, from her position in the title, I feel that she has a pivotal role that I'm overlooking." I concur. The novel is not called "Crake and Oryx," even though Crake is the creator-god. Oryx is the teacher-god, which maybe makes her more important? I'm still not sure.

Overall, I found this book rather unsavory and quite disturbing. When I was finished, I felt rather dirty, as though I needed to take a toothbrush to my brain. Jimmy and Crake live in a world that is a lurid exaggeration of our own time - increasingly exploitative forms of entertainment, like suicide shows and graphic pornography - and frankly, I just did not want to read about those kinds of things. I understand Atwood is trying to make a point about commodification and objectification of people, but I kind of just felt grossed out a lot.

14fannyprice
Editado: Ago 25, 2008, 12:29am

From the reader's guide questions, I'm just going to answer the ones that strike me as most interesting at the moment.

1. Oryx and Crake includes many details that seem futuristic, but are in fact already apparent in our world. What parallels were you able to draw between the items in the world of the novel and those in your own? I've already mentioned the reality-entertainment angle....The genetic engineering angle is definitely present in our time, as others have mentioned, and I think there is some consensus in the ethics world that science has outpaced bioethics. We are pushing innovation because we can and then wondering what it all means and what the impact will be. It disturbs me that we have whole-heartedly embraced things like fertility treatments, genetically engineered crops, etc. without really knowing what the long-term impact of these innovations will be.

3. The game "Extinctathon" emerges as a key component in the novel. Jimmy and Crake also play "Barbarian Stomp" and "Blood and Roses." What comparable video games do you know of? What is your opinion of arcades that feature virtual violence? Discuss the advantages and dangers of virtual reality. Is the novel form itself a sort of virtual reality? The video games in this book reminded me of so many games that I played as a kid and that my nephew is playing now - in particular, the "Civilization" series, which is kind of a large-scale SimCity-like game in which players research and develop everything from writing to tanks to the Sistine Chapel. There are a number of ways to play and win - through war, technology, culture, etc. I tend to be skeptical of people who automatically say that violent video games increase violent behavior - I think that plenty of people play violent video games, watch violent movies, etc. and don't end up being any more violent in real life. Perhaps the problem now is that our entire culture is becoming more saturated with violence, dehumanization, and commodification of people - violent video games are just one more element in this mess. Is the book a form of virtual reality - sure, it is a work of fiction, so its automatically creating a reality that is not yours or mine. I guess the question is how immersive the book itself is, how well it is at drawing the reader in and making him/her forget everything around him.

5. If you had the chance to fabricate an improved human being, would you do it? If so, what features would you choose to incorporate? Why would these be better than what we've got? Your model must of course be biologically viable. Um, I honestly have no idea about this one. I'd like to think I'd say no, but I might say yes. I'd like to think I'd say yes, but I might say no. If I did, I think I would try to focus on things that improve overall health - improved disease resistance or something. Or if I was feeling really mad-scientist, wings for all! Who doesn't want to fly, right? As I said before though, the danger of all this is that we really still don't understand so much about the human genome. Why would we start messing with it just because we think we figured out one tiny thing?

6. The pre-catastrophic society in Oryx and Crake is fixated on physical perfection and longevity, much as our own society is. Discuss the irony of these quests, both within the novel and in our own society. I guess its ironic in the book because the quest for perfection and longevity is ultimately what takes everyone out and ends humanity - the BlyssPill, or whatever it was called. I think perhaps the thing that is ironic about this quest in our society is that people focus on external perfection rather than actually being healthy - so people obsess over how white their teeth are, but consume all sorts of fast food and crap, like high fructose corn syrup.

7. One aspect of the novel's society is the virtual elimination of the middle class. Economic and intellectual disparities, as well as the disappearance of safe public space, allow for few alternatives: People live either in the tightly controlled Compounds of the elites, or in the more open but seedier and more dangerous Pleeblands. Where would your community find itself in the world of Oryx and Crake? That's an interesting question. I guess since I went the humanities route in school I would be out at Martha Graham.... :)

8. Snowman soon discovers that despite himself he's invented a new creation myth, simply by trying to think up comforting answers to the "why" questions of the Children of Crake. In Part Seven-the chapter entitled "Purring"-Crake claims that "God is a cluster of neurons," though he's had trouble eradicating religious experiences without producing zombies. Do you agree with Crake? Do Snowman's origin stories negate or enhance your views on spirituality and how it evolves among various cultures? I struggle with dystopian stories in which a new regime tries to remake humanity but humanity somehow resists because of an inherent need to sing/dance/love/worship/etc. I don't know if I believe in anything like "human nature" or if its even important to argue about its existence. I think that religion is an attempt to make sense of things we can't understand, so I guess Snowman's origin stories work for me. There was something hilariously irreverent to me about imagining Snowman as this prophet who was the ultimate bullsh*tter. And that he was creating a myth about someone who would have despised being worshipped like a god (although I'm not actually sure I believe that about Crake....doesn't a mad scientist who is planning on eliminating humanity and replacing it with his own superior creations have a serious god complex, even if he won't admit it?).

12. In what ways does the dystopia of Oryx and Crake compare to those depicted in novels such as Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale? What is the difference between speculative fiction-which Atwood claims to write-and science fiction proper? Its interesting to me how so many dystopias rest on a rigid system of social or biological engineering to keep everyone in their place. People are numbers or letters (like in Zamyatin's We), or genetically-engineered types, or mindless parts of a larger machine, or immutable social classes. I think Atwood calls her books "speculative fiction" because she says she's not creating anything new, like scifi does, just taking existing things to their extreme. But I'm not sure that's a really accurate description of science fiction - I think there may be an element of snobbery in making the distinction. She doesn't want to be thought of as writing "genre fiction." I use the tag "speculative fiction" in my library to encompass basically everything that is talking about a reality that is distinctly different from ours, whether it is aliens on a different planet, genetically-engineered humans, or Harry Potter. But that is clearly not how Atwood means it.

Question for others: Did you think the book struck a good balance between telling enough and telling too much about the past and how Snowman arrived at his current state? What did you think about the way in which past events were gradually revealed over the course of the book? Did you like it or would you rather have known clearly what happened in the past from the outset?

15avaland
Ago 27, 2008, 1:06am

fannyprice, I'm right behind you! I started the reread while still in Oz but now have some kind of weird southern hemispheric flu which has delayed my finishing it. It is interesting to reread. . .

16avaland
Editado: Set 3, 2008, 8:56pm

Sorry, it has taken me so long to get here! This was a reread for me and several things struck me this time around.

1. The satire. This is not just any kind of dystopian story, it's a satirical one. As fanny notes above, her world and its element are 'lurid' exaggerations. I was snickering through the azure penises and funny animal combos - there's more than a little of the Atwood wit at work. Still, within the satire, the author has something to say about our current culture.

2. The gated communities. I just visited a friend (not in the area) who rents in a gated community, I found it interesting. Gated communities show up also in Octavia Butler's dystopia Parable of the Sower. I'm not sure what I have to say about it at the moment.

3. Oryx. This time around I really questioned the purpose of Oryx in the book. She completes the triangle and gives us some other insight into Crake. I think you all have brought out most of the points on this subject.

The Swift epigraph really keyed me into the satirical aspect of the novel this time around. Didn't think much about the Woolf quote. Hm.

Atwood has crammed so much about our culture in the book, holding it up in exaggerated form for us to look at, to really think about. Genetic engineering seems almost a small part of the whole.

Other small notes:
Violent video games by children not old enough to understand games from reality is, of course, going to affect them but video games reflect the violence in our own society (pop culture is a mirror).
I don't believe the Crackers show an innate recognition of God but of the creation of a god or power to explain things which they have no language and no knowledge to explain (I was once a big Joseph Campbell fan). The reader, like Snowman, knows the explanations for the things they ask.
Was there an elimination of the middle-class? We didn't see the CEOs of these corporations except for Crake (most scientists are not CEOs or even necessarily management). We don't even see the blue collar workers in those corporation. Who feeds and slaughters the Pigtoons? Anyway, I'm not so sure it's quite as simple as class. Corporate created communities?

Just a few thoughts for tonight.

17streamsong
Editado: Set 5, 2008, 10:01am

Yes the scene at the almost-end with the Crakers was hilarious! Imagine, surviving that sort of holocaust where the few remaining humans alive are also probably infected and a threat; as far as you know your world has completely disappeared except for your self and two others into a hostile situation. And then a sound in the bushes--and a group of men with blue penises waving in rhythm to their song advancing at you and smiling and bringing flowers!

But it certainly does mean that the Crakers are in more danger from the human survivors; humans kill what they don't understand.

As to the vanishing middle class--good point. After the holocaust, we do see the dead guards who are probably also in that class. All the middle people are invisible--which probably reflects the alienation that the science and math types feel towards them; they just don't see them.

I once worked with a very very wealthy post-doc from India. One time she was flying somewhere--first class as usual. She asked me somewhat hesitantly if I had ever flown business class. I told her all the time--I have never flown first class. She then very seriously asked me "What do people **do** back there?" She honestly had the impression that once the first class curtain was pulled, bad things happened in the back of the bus.

That's the impression I have with the science/math class in this novel. The more isolated people are from others, the more fearful of them they become.

I really liked Nickelini's post # 10 above. Not all the pleeblands can be that bad.

Yes, Snowman/Jimmy planted the idea of a caretaking God like figure in the Craker's minds. But then the Crakers themselves came up with the almost worshipful way they decided to try to call Snowman back while he was gone.

I have several Joseph Campbell books in MT TBR and have watched some of the PBS interviews with him. I definitely want to read more about the roles of mythology in society. Everybody speaks about him in the 80's....is there someone else's work since then that has better insights or is he still recognized as the standard?

18avaland
Set 5, 2008, 4:40pm

streamsong, perhaps her message is less economic in the obvious sense (as in the stratification of the classes) and more about making people a commodity or something (someones) to exploit. More and more of our culture revolves around exploiting people who have neither the knowledge or monetary safeguards to protect themselves. But maybe that's the same thing...hm.

The book used to be something other than just 'product' also.

19avaland
Editado: Set 8, 2008, 8:23am

The book I'm reading now - Cry Wolf - by Aileen La Tourette (published the same year as The Handmaid's Tale is a post apocalyptic utopian novel. I mention here because the main character, Curie, is the only survivor of an original group of five survivors who were in the position that Snowman is put into. The parallels are interesting. Curie and friends (all women) decide to create a religious utopia making one's body the God and refuse to give the same civilization any history (they won't mention the past).

20kaelirenee
Set 14, 2008, 1:38pm

I'm finally able to post! The first few weeks of every semester are insane.

1. Oryx and Crake includes many details that seem futuristic, but are in fact already apparent in our world. What parallels were you able to draw between the items in the world of the novel and those in your own?

One parallel I saw was more about Atwood's world and Jimmy's-she was raised by a scientist and became a word person, too. I wondered how much of the ambivalence Jimmy felt about his father was autobiographical.

It disturbed me, though, to see how little she thinks scientists think about ethical implications and how little the general public cares about ethical implications. That alone made this a less believable dystopia. I'm not suggesting there are not scientists out there who think "If I can do it, I will-damn the consesquences." But ethical reviews are a major part of every funding process and ever serious scientist I've worked with (granted, the number is small) has been deeply concerned with nefarious applications. Some have even stopped their research because of this. I also know that, judging by the duel debates of stem cell research and GMOs, the general public doesn't just blindly accept whatever biologists throw at them.

4. If you were creating the game "Blood and Roses," what other "Blood" items would you add? What other "Rose" items?
I don't know that I'd add the Holocaust, because what Rose item would balance that out? I might include the low-level things, though...Mother's Day cards and people cutting you off in traffic. Enough of the first and you have a community art project. Enough of the second-well, I'm sure many evil deeds have been caused because of rude drivers.
Speaking of rude, I'd add cell phones to the Blood pack. LOL

5. If you had the chance to fabricate an improved human being, would you do it? If so, what features would you choose to incorporate? Why would these be better than what we've got? Your model must of course be biologically viable.

I have a hard time answering this. My main thought is-just get rid of vistigial items. But obviously those organs aren't harmful enough to make it worthwhile to get rid of. I think humans are too impatient. I'm good with waiting on evolution.

6. The pre-catastrophic society in Oryx and Crake is fixated on physical perfection and longevity, much as our own society is. Discuss the irony of these quests, both within the novel and in our own society.

Hmmm-the quest for longevity leads to the death of civilization. Nope, no irony there.
The biggest irony in the real world I can think of like this is Botox. We use botulism-something that kills so many people and causes such pain-to stop wrinkles. Does this mess with anyone else's mind?

8. Snowman soon discovers that despite himself he's invented a new creation myth, simply by trying to think up comforting answers to the "why" questions of the Children of Crake. In Part Seven-the chapter entitled "Purring"-Crake claims that "God is a cluster of neurons," though he's had trouble eradicating religious experiences without producing zombies. Do you agree with Crake? Do Snowman's origin stories negate or enhance your views on spirituality and how it evolves among various cultures?

I think Atwood and I have a similar view of myth (going along with the Joseph cambell ideas, too)-they are important and vital to the part of us that makes us human, compassionate, inquisitive, and more than lower apes. Myth makes it possible for us to understand things that are really beyond our grasp and let us neatly package away concepts so we can concentrate on the more important stuff. This can be anything from "Why do I have to be nice to strangers?" to "Abe Lincoln is an American hero."

9. How might the novel change if narrated by Oryx? Do any similarities exist between her early life and Snowman's? Do you always believe what she says?

I don't think this story could have been narrated by Oryx. You have to believe the narrator. She tells people what pleases them, what they need to hear at that moment, or whatever allows her to feel better about a situation. I think she needs another person face-to-face so she can play off them.

12. In what ways does the dystopia of Oryx and Crake compare to those depicted in novels such as Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale? What is the difference between speculative fiction-which Atwood claims to write-and science fiction proper?
We have debates about sci-fi versus speculative fiction here in the library all the time. I think there are two things that can make a true sci-fi: migration or nonhuman sentient beings. So, either "We're going to a new planet," or "Look, ma, robots!" That's why I think Handmaid's is speculative and Oryx is more sci-fi.

21avaland
Set 17, 2008, 8:31am

Great thoughts, kaelirenee.

It disturbed me, though, to see how little she thinks scientists think about ethical implications and how little the general public cares about ethical implications. That alone made this a less believable dystopia.

I don't really think she was interested in creating something 'believable' here; thus the satirical approach (she did not use satire in Handmaid's Tale, for example).

22kaelirenee
Set 17, 2008, 9:43am

All dystopias have a sliver of disbelief in them. I went through a few months of reading nothing but dystopias (try being happy after reading over 20 novels about how awful the future will be) and had to ferret out that sliver in each one just to keep sane! But I think you're right-she seems to be more concerned with the feasability of strange political bedfellows (Religious right and feminists), as in Handmaid's Tale, than she does about biology run amock.

23avaland
Set 17, 2008, 12:05pm

And interestingly, 'science run amok' is usually the premise of Crichton-eske science thrillers (which always has scientists as the bad guys - which irks the heck out of my scientist husband).

Is she separating out the science and the commercialism of that science? i.e. finding a cure, then the marketing of that cure.

I love thoughtful dystopias, utopias and post-apocalyptic novels:-) Although, not sure I would want to read a lot in a short amount of time.

24kaelirenee
Set 17, 2008, 1:02pm

Is she separating out the science and the commercialism of that science? i.e. finding a cure, then the marketing of that cure.

I think that's an excellent point. In the 18th and 19th century, research was done by weathy and curious men. When research started being done by organizations, it was almost entirely based on "What is profitable." (There is an interesting chapter on this in Demon under the Microscope, which looks at Baer's role in antibiotic research versus Louis Pastuer's research.) But very little science even now is purely research-how it will be paid for is a major consideration, so whether or not it is marketable is vital. Research for knowledge's sake is relatively rare in the field. But for me, this also has a silver lining, in that there is some corporate responsibility and regulation associated with it (how much and whether it's enough is a big debate). I guess the CERN LHC is a HUGE exception, though I'm sure there's someone out there making a buck out of it.

I'm surprised your husband will even read the science-based thrillers. I thought cops couldn't read cop novels, lawyers couldn't read lawyer novels, and scientists oughtn't read science novels. I know when I was still in forensics, I couldn't read anything by Patricia Cornwell anymore-I was too nitpicky. We did have to pick apart Crichton novels for a few bio classes I've taken, though. That's always fun-fact check novels!

25avaland
Set 17, 2008, 8:22pm

>24 kaelirenee: He doesn't really, but it's hard not to hear about them. He reads nonfiction/current events and SF mostly (which does an entirely different thing than the thrillers do).

I read a book on the history of the AIDS epidemic in Africa last year. The availability of AIDS drugs in Africa came to mind when I wrote the line about the cure and the commercialization.