About three years ago, I bought Moral Disorder because the cover art creeped me out, and I loved it. I couldn’t even figure out why, honestly there didn’t seem to be much substance the first time I read it. But I just enjoyed reading it and thought it was put together really gracefully. Since then I’ve been reading other books by Margaret Atwood, and admire her versatility. I read The Handmaid’s Tale while at the beach. Not exactly the typical beach book, I realized, but I was drawn into the craziness. Plus it gave me something to concentrate on after I was stung by a jellyfish and had quite enough of the ocean and it’s nonsense. I think I like Atwood’s speculative fiction novels the best. I really like historical fiction as well, and believe the future is also history so I like reading about futures that could happen in extreme circumstances. This book was a lot like The Handmaid’s Tale, but instead of dealing with out of control Theocracy, there is a marked lack of religion. Science is penultimate and everything else is just a means to a scientific end.

The story begins at the end, with the main character, Snowman, waking in a tree. He’s a lone survivor of some unknown catastrophe struggling to keep himself going. It’s been a few months, and he’s reviewing lists of words and trying to stick to a daily routine of evicting bugs from his baseball cap and pissing on grasshoppers. There are strange hybrid creatures roaming about. He’s also a sort of a figure of curiosity for nearby not-quite-human children. He refers to the almost humans as Crakers, and expresses a love/hate relationship with this Crake person. Snowman spends the first part of the book sitting around reminiscing, starting with his childhood in the OrganInc compound. Scientific corporations housed their employees in compounds isolated from the general population, leaving the rest of humanity much to their own devices and diseases. Climate change seems to be in full effect: plagues, famine, biological weapons and eco terrorism are the norm. OrganInc specialized in the pigoons, pigs designed to host a variety of human organs for transplants. They also developed a few other splices of creatures. Sometime after, Jimmy’s family moved to the HelthWyzer compound, which was primarily developing pharmaceuticals. Snowman explains he was Jimmy then, and that his only friend was Crake, who wasn’t Crake then. Then he was Glenn and they were strange teenagers together.

The strange teenagers were split up and sent to different colleges; Crake became a bioengineer and Jimmy a marketing expert. Crake manages to find Oryx, who may be a young girl Crake and Jimmy had seen when they were teens in a kiddie porn that had haunted their thoughts. He uses his position at a powerful compound to bring both Oryx and Jimmy into his Paradice project. The plan was based on pharmaceuticals of questionable toxicity and forced accelerated evolution. And from there things that were already pretty bad got out of hand. The word ersatz is used often in this novel. I never realized I didn’t really know what the word meant, since I hadn’t encountered it enough to care about it’s proper use. But now that I know, I think it’s fitting for the book. Jimmy is a word person, specializing in language, and the scientific community in the book are in the business of artifice. Snowman goes on a quest to recover more supplies from the compound he had fled, and also an introspective journey. Perhaps this is the first time he’s wanted to review his thoughts and how he came to be in this situation. Through Snowman’s memories the catastrophe’s causes are unveiled. The Crakers, the children of Oryx. Oryx. They’re all intertwined in the mythology that the Crakers are forming for their creation based on information gleaned from Snowman. Their idea of their creation is a sort of intelligent design. In fact, this novel is basically a parable of the dangers of genetic engineering.

The futuristic world in the novel is skillfully described, and mostly believable. There are references to present day things, leading me to believe this is to be a somewhat impending future. Some of the names for products and corporations seemed cartoonish, but most do of late. That just added to the feeling that these things could be at hand. When I start thinking about our regulatory agencies’ being compromised by corporate insiders, and the recent decision to remove the limit on campaign donations from corporations, I can see how the events in the book could happen. Given the technology and the right amount of willful ignorance, it’s unsettlingly believable. This novel ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’m excited to read The Year of the Flood. And anything else I can find by Margaret Atwood.