Friday, April 01, 2005

Is It Getting Warm in Here, or Is It Just Me?

The world today, it worries me something fierce.

Yet somehow, I could never get my knickers in too much of a twist over genetic engineering. Sure, I found the whole Dolly spectacle rather unsettling, but Frankenfood has ranked pretty low on my Things To Freak Out About list.

Having recently finished Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake, though, I just might have to reprioritize that list.

Atwood is back in dystopic-world territory. Whereas The Handmaid's Tale focused on a nightmare future in which women had no control over their own fertility (or lives, for that matter), Oryx and Crake's scenario concerns an Earth that has survived a global-warming disaster; it's a world in which genetic engineering, corporate domination, and the desire for everlasting youth have run completely amuck.

I'm not a big science fiction fan, but this book gripped me from the first pages. In a way, the structure and pacing (not to mention subject matter) of the book seemed almost Michael Crichton-ish. And despite the overall gloomy tone, I can see that Atwood must have taken no small measure of glee in creating some of the inhabitants of this hell on earth. Some of my favorites:

-- Pigoons, a tricked-out pig developed to grow organs for harvesting
-- Rakunks, a charming hybrid of rat and skunk
-- ChickieNobs, a thoroughly alarming creature that consists just of specific chicken parts (all drum sticks, for example)
-- NooSkins BeauToxique Treatment for minor skin embellishment and The Fountain of Youth Total Plunge for a complete replacement of the customer's epidermis

I didn't find Oryx and Crake as frightening as The Handmaid's Tale, or as nuanced, but it unnerved me sufficiently that I'll be viewing future news stories of the next great genetic feat a lot more dubiously.