Serena’s Review: “The Burning World”

16148435Book: “The Burning World” by Isaac Marion

Publication Info: February 2017, Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: R is recovering from death.

He’s learning how to breathe, how to speak, how to be human, one clumsy step at a time. He doesn’t remember his old life and he doesn’t want to. He’s building a new one with Julie.

But his old life remembers him. The plague has another host far more dangerous than the Dead. It’s coming to return the world to the good old days of stability and control and the strong eating the weak, and stopping it will require a frightening journey into the surreal wastelands of America—and the shadowy basement of R’s mind.

Review: This book came into the publishing world like a new Beyonce album: no word, and then suddenly it appears! I highlighted this book as one that I was looking forward to reading, but also with a bit of trepidation. “Warm Bodies” was such a beautiful, funny little book that opened and closed so neatly that the thought of a sequel had honestly never even crossed my mind. So, while I was excited to re-visit this world, especially in the aftermath of Julie and R’s discovery of re-animating (?) zombies back to humans, I was a bit concerned that it was going to succumb to sequel-itis and bring nothing new to the table while negatively impacting the brilliance of the original. And while there were a few rough patches, particularly in the beginning, I am pleased to report that Marion’s expansion to his world and series is well fleshed (ha!) out!.

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You can’t stop this laugh train! (source)

“The Burning World” picks up a few months after the events of “Warm Bodies,” and things aren’t going as smoothly as Julie and R had hoped re: reintroducing the zombies into society. I mean, in the movie version of the first book, the zombies and humans are literally playing baseball together and sharing umbrellas in the end. This book quickly does away with any of these happy fantasies. Turns out people aren’t quite as easy to convince that beings that used to kill and eat their brains are really just uber repressed people who need to reconnect with their feelings if only they’d give them all a chance! Even R himself, the protege of this whole zombie-transformation-movement is struggling with the reality of this transition. When he was cured, mobility, language, and most especially, memory didn’t suddenly just reappear. They’ve all had to be tediously re-learned, and when the story begins, it is clear that he’s hit a bit of a wall.

When I made my admittedly very bad pun about fleshing out the world, that is probably the most notable aspect of this book. Marion takes his rather simplistic little zombie world and really goes crazy with it. Half the appeal of “Warm Bodies” was the complete lack of importance that was given to the history of the world. Something went wrong, zombies appeared, and this is the hell everyone is now living in. No explanation necessary. Doing away with this charm was a risky move, but a challenge that Marion proves to be up to meeting. Not only do we get details into R’s own history, but through his patchy and slowly returning memories (present in flashbacks interspersed throughout the story) we see how broken the world really was. If anything, the world of “Warm  Bodies” was a step in the right direction from what had come before! Fractions and zealots fought for power, religion and business warred to control the minds of the people, and zombies were almost an after thought to the craziness.

One particularly, albeit smaller, detail that was brought to the table was the reality of what transforming from a zombie that can’t be killed by anything less than a shot to the head into a person entails. Nora’s story comes to the forefront as a nurse attempting to treat these re-emerging injuries. If you’re shot as a zombie, you don’t heal. Becoming human again doesn’t magically do away with life-ending injuries. This brought a level of seriousness to the procedure that I hadn’t expected, and one that is tied into a major plot line for Julie later in the book.

Most of the plot involves an airplane roadtrip across America. Julie’s home is invaded by a shadowy group with whom R is having strange kindlings of memories, forcing them to go on the run. Mixed in with the expanded world (which cities fell, which cities burned, which came up with their own rule of law), our heroes are faced with the constant question of what future they are running towards: one in which they fight or one in which they flee. I loved how these questions are never approached with an obvious answer. The characters on either side make valid arguments, and though as a reader I knew what the ultimate decision would be, I appreciated the fact that other survival techniques were not poo-pooed away.

So, I really did love much of the book. The expanded world, the added characters, R’s complicated history. However, there were a few setbacks. In the beginning especially, I felt as if the writing was a bit stilted and trying too hard as far as philosophical musings go. “Warm Bodies” hit just the right balance in this regard, and I felt like “The Burning World” suffered from the weight of expectations. Once the story really gets going, there’s enough of a structure to hang these existential musings upon, but in the beginning it just felt tedious and a bit forced.

Secondly, there was a strange “We” character that would show up between chapters. Even by the end of the book, I’m not sure what I was supposed to be getting from these chapters. And it’s not like there were only a few! There were pages of this stuff, and much of the same tedious philosophical ramblings would be crammed into this section with no character or story to really focus on. About midways through we meeting a zombie boy who becomes something of a character in these bits, but the whole thing still feels very strange and disconnected from the story. Presumably it’s building towards some sort of reveal in the final third book in this series, but in this one it felt like a distraction and an unwarranted break in the main plotline’s action.

And on that note, there is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of this book. Nothing intolerable, in my opinion, but it does end in a manner that requires a follow up read to really reach any type of resolution to both the story and character arcs. But, luckily, this was a strong enough sequel that I’m all in for the next and last book!

Rating 8: A solid, surprise follow up to a story that, previously to this, I had been happy enough seeing as complete!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Burning World” is newly released and thus not on many Goodreads lists, but it is on  “Zombies!” and should be on “Apocalypses and Dystopias.”

Find “The Burning World” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City”

7599985Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City” by Warren Ellis and Rodney Ramos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo Comics, July 2001

Where Did I Get This Book: I own in!

Book Description: Continuing the acclaimed tale of the day-to-day trials and tribulations of Spider Jerusalem, this fifth installment has the no-holds-barred investigative reporter delving into the city’s police corruption. Living in an anti-utopian future, Spider continues his quest to expose society’s injustices as he focuses his attention on those sworn to protect and serve. But even more so than usual, he will learn that his dedication to the truth can come at a high physical cost, especially when dealing with the riot police. Featuring an introduction by actor Patrick Stewart.

Review: I really have to pat Warren Ellis on the back, because boy has this re-read of “Transmetropolitan” felt so relevant and timeless. I’m now halfway through the volumes, and every time I pick one up I say to myself “Boy, this sure feels like the stuff that’s going on in today’s world of politics and government.” The journey of Spider, Channon, and Yelena continues to be absurd and over the top in a lot of ways, be it the cyber punk setting or the various side characters and plots that involve genetic mutants, crazy technology, and a crazed society. But at the very heart of it, there is always truth and relatable heart. And “Lonely City” is no exception, as it tackles the question of the Free Press, and Police Brutality. Like I said. Familiar.

It’s kind of funny how these stories are so over the top, and yet there is that grain of truth to them. It starts out innocently enough, this collection, with Spider and his Filthy Assistants deciding to take on a Senator who is caught up in a potential sex scandal. It’s a move that they’ve done before, and how they usually operated when The Beast was President. It’s humorous and it’s fun watching them pursue this guy relentlessly, knowing that he’s going to expose corruption and hypocrisy, all because of a new invention called a G-Reader, which can read genome structures and genetic code on any individual. For Spider he can read where this Senator has been, based on what he left behind on a number of prostitutes. But the G-Reader is also used by a gang of thugs to read the genetic make-up of someone who they then beat to death (because Lockwood, the victim, had modified his genome in a way that is considered ‘perverse’. It’s hard to explain in full here so just think of it as a hate crime). The same machine used in two totally different ways, the ups and downs of technology. Spider, Channon, and Yelena decide to take on the story of Lockwood, and why the police are being so cagey about it.

And what happens next is yet again an example of me completely forgetting parts of this series that are now blowing me away.

Ellis does a great job of portraying a corrupt system from top to bottom, from the White House to the precinct house. Because when Spider, Channon, and Yelena find themselves the targets of a dangerous plot (which I won’t spoil here), and hope to expose just how far it goes….. they are stymied by the White House, who makes Spider’s paper crush the story. Up until this point, Spider has always had the Truth to rely on, and his ability to move that truth from his screen to the masses of the public. Even under The Beast such truths were not suppressed, making Spider an enemy, yes, but an enemy with a voice. Now, however, he doesn’t even have that. And once again, we leave this collection on a bit of an “Empire Strikes Back” kind of moment. A moment that, after certain news outlets have been shut out of White House Press briefings in retaliation for the stories they run with, feels all too resonant and really hit me in the gut as I turned the last page.

Spider’s character is slowly evolving as well. He still has that cocky and manic swagger about him, confident in his role as truth teller and remaining both a Greek Chorus and Shakespearean Fool to the story. But he’s also starting to crack. The Smiler has a very tiny role in this one, but even if he makes no appearance his power and influence is everywhere. This world that Spider lives in is changing, and it’s changing for the absolute worse. And he’s finding himself more and more powerless to fight against it.

I also wanted to note, just for funsies, that the introduction to this volume (at least the copy I have) was written by Patrick Stewart! Apparently he’s a “Transmetropolitan” fan, which really made me smile. But he also completely sums up exactly what it is about this series that I love.

“I know this City, I have read The Word, I have listened to these politicians, I have smelt the stink of greed, I have thrown things at the TV, I have wondered what future there is for Truth and Beauty. I have wanted to go and live on the top of a Yorkshire moor… Warren, tell Spider to stay healthy and keep writing the column.”

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(source)

“Transmetropolitan” continues to strive for that truth and beauty, even when it gets super dark. That’s what I love about this series.

Rating 8: This definitely has it’s moments of fun and humor, but also has some good and chilling commentary on the importance of the free press in a corrupt society. “Transmetropolitan” continues to feel all too familiar and real in today’s political climate!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City” can be found on the Goodreads lists “Bibles for the Revolution”, and “Books That Make You Vomit With Joy”(?).

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.5): Lonely City” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum”.

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum”

6941759Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 2000

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: Investigative reporter Spider Jerusalem attacks the injustices of the 23rd Century surroundings while working for the newspaper The Word in this critically-acclaimed graphic novel series written by comics superstar Warren Ellis, the co-creator of PLANETARY and THE AUTHORITY.

Review: The more I revisit “Transmetropolitan”, the more I see and deeply feel parallels to our current legal situation, and in turn the more I mourn the lack of a Spider Jerusalem to jump in and start speaking ten kinds of truth. This re-read is both cathartic and upsetting, but the good news is that at least I’m finding myself laughing hysterically at many points of these comics. Because Spider, Yelena, and Channon are all so perfect and filled with snark.

We pick up where Volume 3 left off. Spider (and the world, really) is mourning the assassination of Vita Severn. She’s become a martyr and a symbol for the Callahan campaign. Spider, however, isn’t convinced that Callahan (aka The Smiler) is actually in mourning for Vita. In fact, he has a pretty good hunch that murdering Vita was a political move on the Callahan’s part. And with the election coming up, Spider wants to get the truth out in the only way he knows how. The problem is, there’s no way to win. Because the choices are The Beast, or The Smiler. And either way, Spider, and the country, is screwed….

And along with that we get a Christmas story and a story about the joys of Winter!

Ellis continues his masterful and deft political satire that continues to feel just as relevant today as it felt back when it was first written. While this collection does have a few off shoots and off story vignettes (more on that in a bit), the meat of it is about The Campaign, and Spider’s not so slow realization that there is no good solution. You either get stuck with The Beast, who has driven the country into the ground with oppressive and totalitarian policies, or you end up with The Smiler… Who has managed to prove himself far, far deadlier and menacing than his opponent behind closed doors. There are two moments in this book where Spider confronts both candidates. We get a swift reminder that The Beast is still basically the worst (and he even kind of looks like a certain presidential advisor), but at the same time you see the portrait of a man who is less beastly, and more pathetic and complacent. It was a truly unsettling moment for me as a reader, because it shows that what’s coming is going to somehow be WORSE than the worst. It was a very interesting and kind of pathos ridden final confrontation between Spider and President Beast.

And then there’s The Smiler. It is here that we get full confirmation that he is a full blown psychopath who just kind of wants to watch the world burn. So while The Beast may look like that certain Presidential Advisor, The Smiler shares ethos with him. And it is in this volume that we see Spider, wily, truth pursuing and clever Spider, is bested. Spider had an enemy in The Beast, for sure. But The Smiler is full on intent of annihilating him and wiping him from the Earth. “The New Scum” kind of feels like an “Empire Strikes Back” moment, where almost all hope has been lost and the Empire has won (even more so than Vol. 3, which ended with Vita being assassinated on live TV, and THAT was pretty dismal). Finishing that arc before the next left me feeling drained and in need of chocolate cake.

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(source)

But along with these painful and ‘oh no it’s far too true to life’ moments, there were small moments of pure hope and joy in this collection. In one of our offshoot stories, Spider finds himself meeting up with Mary, his friend who was frozen from the 20th Century and woke up in a scary and completely different future. As she talks about how different it all is, there are still the little joys that make her happy, even if the world is overwhelming and sometimes scares the crap out of her (and then Spider gives her a camera, as she was a photographer in her old life, and that just made my heart sing). In this same story Spider meets a little girl whose Mom had to pawn her favorite doll…. So Spider buys it back for her. Because he recognizes that “… all we’ve actually got is each other. You decide what that means.” And the other story that really affected me is Spider’s rumination on Winter. Winter means change. Winter means a rebirth is coming. Winter means that we can always look forward to the next one, and maybe next Winter will be better. It was a poignant and stunning one off that, true, feels a little harder to swallow these days. I don’t feel like I’m better off this Winter than I was last Winter. But the point is that Ellis knows that even when there’s all this garbage and terribleness, you can always depend on a couple things: the small joys and kindnesses that you will encounter, and that hope for change and rebirth is always there. In these moments, I was able to feel at least a little calmer.

Thanks for the hope, Spider. And thanks for staying inspirational when it comes to truth and journalism.

Rating 9: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” is one of the most hopeless and hopeful collections of this series yet. Definitely hard to read, but impossible to put down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum”is included on these Goodreads lists: “Great Non-Superhero Graphic Novels”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.4): The New Scum” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard”.

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard”

22418

Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): Year of the Bastard” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), and Rodney Ramos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 1999

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Investigative reporter Spider Jerusalem attacks the injustices of the 23rd Century surroundings while working for the newspaper The Word in this critically-acclaimed graphic novel series written by comics superstar Warren Ellis, the co-creator of PLANETARY and THE AUTHORITY.

In this third volume, Spider Jerusalem begins to crumble under the pressure of sudden and unwanted fame. Having had enough of the warped 23rd century Babylon that he lives in, Spider escapes into a world of bitterness and pills. As he stumbles through this haze of depression and drugs, he must find a way to cover the biggest story of the year, the presidential election. Armed with only his demented mind and dark sense of humor, Spider embarks on an adventure of political cynicism, horrific sex, and unwelcome celebrity which culminates in a shocking and ruinous ending.

Review: When we left of in “Transmetropolitan”, things got a bit existential and a bit off track of the main plot. That isn’t to say that I didn’t appreciate the stories that we got in “Transmetropolitan: Lust for Life”. I actually really did enjoy them for what they were and what purpose they served. I liked learning more about the world that this series takes place in, and the limits and limitlessness that society lives with. But I’ll be honest, I was stoked to see that we were getting back into the down and dirty nitty gritty with “Transmetropolitan: Year of the Bastard”. Spider’s assistant Channon has left him in the lurch, and he’s turned to drugs and angst. But then he is approached by Vita Severn, the campaign manager of the candidate who is going to rival The Beast. This man is known as The Smiler, as he perpetually smiles and tries to show off a chipper demeanor to counteract The Beast.

Spider, of course, is NOT fooled by any of this bullshit.

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(source)

As much as maybe in this moment I needed someone to rail against The Beast in any way, shape, and form, it was very nice to see that Spider Jerusalem stayed true to form and showed a blatant mistrust for any and all politicians, even ones that could possibly take down the monster in charge. The whole point of this series is that corruption is rampant and a simple answer isn’t readily available because of it. But along with that, we get to see that sometimes in an imperfect situation, there are symbols of hope. And I am, of course, referring to the lovely, strong, and badass Vita Severn, the one friggin’ symbol of true hope that The Smiler’s campaign truly has.

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Here she is with a literal Princess Leia ‘do. That’s deliberate. (source)

I had completely forgotten about Vita. I know why I did (no spoilers), but this time around she left such a positive impression on me she has skyrocketed up to my top five favorite characters in this series. I love that Ellis writes women so well and in such varied ways. You have Channon, a volatile and snarky, but ultimately supportive and caring, ex stripper who will protect Spider at all costs. You have Vita, a brilliant political mind who knows that her choice in candidate is not perfect, but truly feels that it’s the only way to take down an even worse threat. And then, there’s the introduction of Yelena, Spider’s new assistant. Yelena is so different from Channon, in that she has no interest in hanging out with Spider, and deeply resents that she is being made to (she’s Spider’s boss’s niece). And if you thought that Channon didn’t take crap from Spider, Yelena is the absolute master of not taking crap from him. On my first read through of this series I wasn’t as into Yelena, but this time around, I am really enjoying her thus far. Even if she’s a bit 2 Edgy 4 Me at times.

As far as the plot progression goes, as I mentioned before, we get back on track with the main plot in this collection. Spider gets fully pulled into covering the Election, pressured to speak out in favor of the Smiler in spite of the fact that he finds the Smiler pretty corrupt in his own ways. I liked the issues that this raises, bringing up the questions of supporting someone who is flawed and bad in different ways in the name of dethroning and taking down someone who is the evil you already know. I can see arguments for both sides, and I think that Ellis does a good job of showing why both positions have their pros and cons. Along with this, we get to see how flawed Spider himself is. Sure, in the first two collections he’s definitely brash, violent, bitter, and rageful. But in this one we see that he’s also spiraling now that Channon is gone, and that his addiction to drugs is back in full swing. Spider is certainly based in part on Hunter S. Thompson, and it’s in storylines like these that we are reminded that Thompson himself was incredibly screwed up, no matter how brilliant he was. I love Spider, but I applaud that Ellis isn’t making him free of critique or problems that could really do damage to him and to those around him.

Plus, the ending of this collection…… It just gutted me. I had forgotten about it, and I gasped out loud when the big climax happened, because damn was it unexpected, and DAMN did it hurt.

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So much pain. SO MUCH PAIN. (source)

This series continues to be great, and I can’t wait to see what I rediscover next. Even if I know I’m going to get emotionally ravaged again and again. Thanks, Spider. Thanks a lot.

Rating 9: We are back on the main storyline and it goes as dark and darkly funny as you’d expect from this series. It was great seeing Yelena finally show up, and Spider continues to be both the best and the worst.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.3): The Year of the Bastard” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Great Non-Superhero Graphic Novels”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol. 3): The Year of the Bastard” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:“Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”.

Kate’s Re-Visit Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life”

22417Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson (Ill.).

Publishing Info: Vertigo, February 1999

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it!

Book Description: Outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem has become a household name in the future City he calls home. This latest collection of twisted tales showcases Spider’s horrific yet funny screeds on subjects as diverse as religion, politics, and his ex-wife’s cryogenically frozen head (which has been stolen). “Transmetropolitan” has been called “brilliant future-shock commentary” (Spin), and this new volume shows why.

Review: It boggles my mind, the things that I remember about “Transmetropolitan” and the things that I forgot. I definitely remember Spider and his ways, how couldn’t one? I remembered The Cat, the two faced feline, and Channon, and other characters that have yet to show up. But various plot points completely left my mind, and I Think that those plot points had more to do with the vignettes that you find in the comics every once in awhile. Because while “Transmetropolitan” has it’s overall progression and story arc, it also has stories that stand alone, even if they sometimes affect the broader plot. “Lust for Life” is one of those collections, where none of the stories really apply to The Beast, or the campaign, or Spider’s role in the political climate of The City or the world he inhabits. This collection is really there to give more depth to the characters and the world that they live in, and I forgot how filled with pathos this series could be until I picked this one up.

The stories in this collection do have some absurd moments (the frozen head of Spider’s ex-wife going missing, for example, and the romp that ensues). But there were two storylines that really stood out as heart felt and just plain sad. The sadness that comes in this collection really gives all the more strength to the series as a whole, to show that it’s not just one big cyber punk filth and cynicism festival. The first involves Channon, my favorite character in the whole series, and her inability to come to terms with letting her degenerate boyfriend out of her life. Channon is strong and she has the patience of a saint to put up with Spider, but you can tell that she’s also very lonely, and looking for validation. She never falls into a trope, but she has a turning point as a character when her boyfriend decides that he wants to leave his body and transfer his consciousness into a gaseous vapor. Sounds oddball, and it is, but Ellis does a great job of making this story more about letting go of loved ones, no matter how much it hurts, and how necessary it is. The entire sequence is both tragic and beautiful, and seeing Channon in this new, vulnerable role is incredibly rewarding.

The second storyline that really punched me in the gut was that of Mary. Mary is a subject of one of Spider’s columns, a woman who lived a vibrant and exciting life in the 20th century. She was a photographer who travelled the world and was present at a number of historic events. When she was older, she and her husband decided to go through cryogenesis so they could wake up in the future…. Except, her husband died before he could be frozen. And when Mary wakes up in the world of Spider Jerusalem and The City, she is in the body of a twentysomething… And completely alone in a place that she cannot comprehend. It’s a story about wanting to live beyond your time, and taking a chance on it only to find yourself all the more isolated within a world that is already incredibly isolating. It was a story that reminded me that Ellis can write snide and cynical and crude stories, but he can also write some seriously existential and pathos ridden stuff. The City is already claustrophobic for the people who live there and are used to it. But to bring in a person who is, by and large, an analog for the reader and the time frame that we are more comfortable with, it makes you really think about what the hell it would be like to live there instead of just reading about it from the outside. And for me, damn was it lonely and really, really scary. I remember once one of my classes asked me if I would take a chance on being frozen to be awakened at a future date. While a number of classmates said yes, I was a solid ‘no’. And I wonder if in the back of my mind I was remembering the story of Mary, and how she goes from a formidable and thriving woman to a scared and lost stranger in an alien land.

I do wish that more actual plot line had happened in this book, but overall I did enjoy “Transmetropolitan: Lust for Life”. It’s nice to see that Spider does cover more than just the crazy campaign that is going to be a huge part of this story as a whole.

Rating 9: Though it isn’t as focused on the main storyline, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” does a good job of examining philosophical issues that could apply to it’s world, as well as our world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Best Gonzo Books”, and “Bibles for the Revolution”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.2): Lust for Life” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously reviewed: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.1): Back on the Street”.

Serena’s Review: “Oryx and Crake”

46756Book: “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood

Publishing Info: Anchor, March 2004

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride.

Review: Margaret Atwood is a master of dystopian fiction. And that is why I read her books rarely. Want to sink deeply into existential malaise? Wallow in the realization that many of these “dystonian” constructs seem frighteningly close to the truth? Oh boy, get ready! And while this is a glum start to a review, the fact that she is able to tap so directly into these dark themes is simply an example of her expertise in action.

“Oryx and Crake” drops readers off right in the middle of the action…er…inaction. A man who calls himself “Snowman” is seemingly the last human alive on a very clearly climate-impacted earth. Surrounded by bizarre hybrids species such as Rachunks (raccoon/skunks) and Wolvogs (wolf/dogs), he spends his days sleeping in a tree, scrounging for food, and acting as a sort of prophet to the “Children of Crake” a humanoid species that he shares his beach with.

A beginning like this is definitely challenging. Atwood starts her story in the middle and leaves readers to trust that the answer to an overwhelming number of initial questions will come. The story does become clear slowly throughout the book using extended flashback as Snowman thinks of his life before when he was known as Jimmy and had a brilliant friend named Crake and a mysterious lover named Oryx. Through these flashbacks and what seems like the slow decay of Snowman’s sanity given his isolation, important facts and connections can be gleaned and fit together forming a complex puzzle that is incredible once you reach the end. However, while I loved this tactic, some readers may be frustrated with the amount of trust and patience that is required early on in the story.

The main focus of the story is the life of Jimmy/Snowman. Knowing the end result, it is fascinating reading about his life unfolding and spotting the signs that things would not end well. And right here is what I’m talking about! The mad science of this society that comes across as horrific to an omniscient reader who knows the outcome can also be easily seen as a natural progression of a society gone wild with its own power of creation. What’s more, in the moment, lacking this foreknowledge, these advancements would seem as nothing more than the logical next step in society. And it’s terrifying, the ease with which one can imagine these things as all too plausible in the near future! Atwood pulls no punches in her critiques of society, science, and the pitfalls of humanity’s relationship with nature, science, and, perhaps most importantly, with itself.

As a character, Jimmy is the everyman of the story. As the son of two scientists, Jimmy’s life is one of privilege given the state of society. He grows up in a “compound,” one of the elaborate campuses that private companies create to house their most prized goods: the brilliant scientists they hire. Outside these communities lie the “Pleblands” where the average members of society make their living. I wish we had heard more about this outside world. As I said, Jimmy starts life in a very privileged position and this start is enough to successfully carry him through a life inside the more cozy world of these compounds, even though he doesn’t possess the brilliance of his parents or genius best friend, Crake. That being the case, we see very little of this outside world. It seems to still run like current society, with a hierarchy of wealth within its boundaries as well, though more plagued by crime, disease, and, obviously, poverty, than the compounds.

The second member of the three main characters is Oryx, the love interest for Jimmy and Crake, though this is a very small part of the story, as far as I could tell. The book description plays  it up in a way that I don’t think rings true at all. Of the three characters, her life story is the most tragic and she is the most ambiguous. It is clear that Jimmy never fully understands her, so we as readers glimpsing her only through Jimmy’s own perceptions never see a clear picture either. While I enjoyed hearing her story and seeing different aspects of society through her life, as a character she was probably the weakest. Her storyline did not seem as integral to the plot overall.

And Crake. Jimmy has a better understanding of him, but an understanding that is constantly distorted through rose colored glasses of childhood friendship. Again, knowing the outcome and in combination with Snowman’s more cynical thought process in the present, the story of Crake is one of simmering horror.

“Oryx and Crake” is the first in a trilogy, however, it reads well as a stand alone novel. I will most likely continue the series (again, once I’ve given myself a rest from the dread that Atwood so effortlessly dredges up), but I am satisfied with the story as it stands now, as well. Her writing is strong, the characters intricate, and, as always, this book definitely reads as a cautionary tale for humanity.

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Agent Smith had it right, according to this book!

Rating 8: Dark, but great.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Oryx and Crake” is included on the Goodreads list “Smart Apocalyptic and Dystopian Fiction” and “Science Fiction Books by Female Authors”.

Find “Oryx and Crake” at your library using WorldCat!