Monthly Archives: June 2014

Wordy Review: Oryx and Crake by Margret Atwood

Ah Post Apocalyptica, the holiday destination of dreams, where there are no lines, no traffic and you can throw your dirty towels anywhere you please. I can’t be the only antisocialite who reads through something like The Stand or I Am Legend and daydreams of living in that place of serene quiet and optional clothing etiquettes, where I can finally stand up in a pub and shout the words ‘Cold Chisel are overrated’ without being beaten to death again. There really should be a resort made into a faux post apocalypse world where everything can be bought for the price of a brick through a shopwindow and ample parking abounds in splendid isolation.

And so we come to Oryx and Crake, a title that every time I asked for it at a bookstore I sounded like a Scottish person asking for Oreos and Crack, which as far as misunderstandings go was pretty fun. So after dusting the cookies crumbs off my crack pipe it was onto the book, which sees us following a man called Snowman, last surviving human and somewhat unwitting caretaker to a species of vibrantly coloured perfect humanoids called Crakers. The story follows days-in-the-life-of Snowman as he lives in a world where every other human has gone the way of popular Game of Thrones characters, punctuated with a steady stream of flashbacks to a time when the population outnumbered the current number of crack references, slowly revealing just how everything went tits up, pear shaped, shit the bed then hit the fan with the shit.
In this instance the answer to ‘how did all the peoples die?’ and ‘what the frak is a Craker?’ is intricately woven through the entire book, the flashbacks and Snowman’s narrative forming the careful stepping stones of exposition throughout as we play catch-up, which I initially I found kind of irritating because it’s often the technique of a boring narrative to put the timeline in a blender in order to create an artificial air or mystery about the proceedings and keep people interested, like when the office dullard says ‘boy, did I had a crazy weekend’ and then stops, goading someone to ask what happened then launching into a twenty minute story about how he thought his cat had run away but was really just asleep behind the sofa again. Thankfully what’s on offer here actually becomes interesting and holds a lot of depth as we delve into Snowman’s past all the way back to when he was a toddler called Jimmy right up to the how and when the world became a shit sandwich with only him around to eat it.

After my initial wariness abated things got pretty damn good, Atwood has a strong handle on her characters, especially the progression on Jimmy’s life from neglected toddler through uncomfortable adolescence and unremarkable adulthood, his friendship with Crake an eventually Oryx and his relationships with his parents feel genuine while the world surrounding him of genetic engineering and science dancing on the edge of an ethical knife is detailed and real, balanced between philanthropic ideals and monetary gain, veering frighteningly close to home is written in a way that you can feel the hopes and plight of people trying to build a Brave New World on the deck of a sinking ship.

So if all that’s good it must be perfection right? Not quite, you see much like building a life size sculpture of David Hasselhoff out of jelly cubes things get a bit wobbly once you’ve put all the pieces together. Atwood has described the novel as speculative fiction, which is getting to be sort of a buzz word these days, and an “adventure romance’ instead of strict science fiction and I can only really agree with about half of that. While a dedicated sci-fi writer like Philip K. Dick or Arthur C. Clark could have knocked a concept like this out over lunch they might have missed all the character depth and complicated relationships that form at the heart of the story which makes the title ‘adventure romance’ seem totally apt, however there’s a certain lack of emotion at times which seems to treat that description as more of a suggestion. For instance Snowman recollects Oryx as his great love even hearing her speak in his solitude, the back story being Jimmy first sees Oryx on a kiddie porn site (giving our book club exactly one book that doesn’t contain either hookers or porn) after which he keeps a photo print out for the next couple of decades, but then when Jimmy finally meets her not much really goes on between them before mass extinction kicks in and that brevity of it doesn’t do quite enough to tie Flashback Jimmy to Snowman the Lastman which takes away some of that emotional character grounding. Despite having built up to their meeting over 300 odd pages it’s almost like Atwood had no interest in their relationship, content with the impression that; ‘yes he dreamed of her for years then found her now they’re in love or maybe not anyway shut up I’ve got shit to break’ and much of the third act seems to go by pretty quickly. You could call that a re-contextualising of the narrative now that you have all the jelly cubes of story if you want to but as the old saying goes, don’t piss on my head and tell me it’s raining, and as long as you’re doing me favours don’t piss on me at all.
Then there are also some unexplained elements, such as Snowman’s vulnerability to the midday sun or why it always rains every afternoon. I checked Wikipedia and this is meant to be due to climate change but I don’t remember that ever getting a mention in the book proper. The ambiguity does certainly work elsewhere though and suffice to say you’ll learn ‘how’ eventually but ‘why’ is largely left to your own interpretation and how closely you’ve been paying attention so I mostly let it all slide.

Perhaps my biggest problem here isn’t with the book itself but in the fact that this is the first in a trilogy, which annoys me somewhat because I enjoyed the ambiguity of it all and the idea of that ambiguity being expanded and explained washes away that ‘only Crake knows for sure’ vibe that made things mysterious and interesting. In the right hands the lack of clarity can make things bigger as you fill in the gaps yourself with no limitations whereas additions to the series will only add boarders. The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam may be great books and I’ll probably end up reading them but under a slightly begrudged cloud of gloom because the stories I’ve told myself in the wake of having read Orxy and Crake will have less room to live.
But really that’s speculative criticism, the guts of it is that Oryx and Crake is good, possibly great and as we approach the half year mark and I plan my retrospective of the first six books we’ve covered O&C is easily vying for the #1 space. Occasional lapses in character and a somewhat truncated third act hardly ruin what is a well crafted, thought provoking and strangely endearing in its protagonists affection for the people that left him all alone in a post apocalyptic nightmare, or paradise depending on your perspective.

With that in mind I’m off to visit my travel agent, I hear Prypiat is lovely this time of year.

Written By B.T. ‘Omelettes and Crepe’ Calloway


Oryx and Crake Recommended Drinking List

Scotch dregs

Beer – the kind you find in the back of the cupboard because someone gave it to you at a dinner party you hosted once and you always meant to bring it out the next time they came around again but you always seemed to forget and now it’s six months out of date and you’re not sure it’s supposed to be that colour but it’s imported so maybe it is meant to be like that. Whatever, it’s beer.

Spraygun Shot

500 ml vanilla or citrus vodka
spray bottle

Pour vodka into a spray bottle. Aim at mouth hole, fire at will.

Wordy Review: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

This month’s review was brought to you by the number 1800 and the word Dipsomania.

I’ve actually wanted to read some Agatha Christie ever since she appeared on an episode of Doctor Who fending off a giant alien wasp and David Tennant’s raw sexual appeal, but aside from that I was also curious to see what variety of detective stories she writes, because there are certainly a few different flavours out there. There’s the kind where the explanation is so improbable you can only marvel at the brilliant deductions of the protagonist (that’d be your Sherlocks), there’s the one where we know who did it and we watch to see how the protagonist figures it out (ala Colombo), then there’s the type which gives the audience some clues and lets you try and figure it out yourself (as seen on Scooby Doo), and finally there’s the kind that throw out some random bullshit explanation at the end that sort of ruins things, a bit like finding out your lover poops at climax, (that’d be The Luminaries and sometimes the Sherlocks, lest we forget the one where the solution is ‘pigmy with a blowpipe’). Anyway it turns out The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is mostly the third one with just a dash of the fourth.

The trouble with reviewing mysteries is their vulnerability to spoilers more than any other form of fiction and while I won’t give much away if you want to go in cold you should probably stop reading at the end of this paragraph. Actually you probably should have stopped at that climax-poop bit but that was more in the interests of good taste, anyway if all you really need to know is ‘is it worth a read?’ then yes, I’d say so, it’s an easy read and even at its most meh I still wanted to keep going and found that it occupied my thoughts enough afterwards to say I enjoyed it, though those thoughts were largely towards whether or not I though it really worked as a mystery. What does that mean? Follow me into incredibly mild spoiler territory!

Spoiler Warning, Threat Level Marmalade

I think this is what you might call a standard murder mystery for the most part; there’s a dead guy, someone who was blackmailing his recently alive wife and a list of suspects who were all in the stately manor at the time of the murder, each with something to hide and one of them is a butler, because there must always be a butler, I don’t know if it’s because no one outside the aristocracy has ever murdered in England or that it’s just that every English Thomas, Richard and Harold just happened to have a butler. We follow the GP of a sleepy town of King’s Abbott, the good Dr. Shepherd as he follows Hercule Poirot, the famed detective who thought he could retire and leave the old life behind but just when he thought he was out they drag him back in because he didn’t choose the sleuth life, the sleuth life chose him, dammit. An early complaint is that it’s one thing to be watching the detectives but it’s another thing entirely to be watching someone watching a detective work. I know the point is to steady the reveal of information by having a Watson or a Hastings as an audience proxy but it’s still kind of annoying because at times while Poirot is off sleuthing it up Dr Shepherd’s often taking tea or playing mah-jong or gossiping with his sister, so in parts of the story it feels like we’re spending the day with Clark Kent instead of Superman.

From there it’s all standard fair, Poirot plods along sniffing out clues and taking statements all the while throwing out vague hints as to what it all means but what separates The Murder of Dan Ackroyd to other mysteries is its big third act reveal and simply knowing that there is such a reveal is all the spoiler marmalade you’ll get from me. Suffice to say that it’s something that makes me honestly wonder if this counts as a mystery novel at all because while it’s a clever little twist in terms of narrative it renders much of the accumulated knowledge and deductions about the crime a bit null and void. I had suspicions of said reveal about three quarters of the way through but dismissed them because they didn’t seem to fit and being given only the tail end of the book to swallow the sudden change left me somewhat unsatisfied but not entirely unfulfilled, sort of like swallowing actual change.

So, before this spoiler marmalade turns into peanut butter I should probably wrap things up. All said is The Murder of Jim Belushi worth it? That depends on your personal context I suppose, because while I liked it well enough upon completion I like it a fair bit less now than when I started writing about it all those minutes ago when I was young and reckless. The fact that I can call it a stock standard mystery novel is sort of a problem and while I haven’t read any other Christie I get the distinct feeling that it’s all pretty much like this, save for the aforementioned marmalade twist towards the end, a twist that I feel may actually keep this from being a true mystery, at least in terms of one where the reader can follow the clues and conclusions the same as it’s protagonist. It’s a difficult call but I’d say if you want something easy and intriguing to read without too much commitment, because hypothetically you’re an insomniac with gout and a fear of flying so you’re travelling by train between Venice and Prague with several hour to kill then yes, give it a shot and get the gout checked, but for most I can’t help but come back to the notion that in creating a clever twist Christie might have ruined her own mystery because you can’t change a key element so late in the game and still claim that it’s mysterious, like how you can’t freeze soup on a stick and call it dessert or how I can’t sell ice cream from the back of an unmarked panel van and still be surprised when it all ends in handcuffs and TASER burns.

Written by Mix Master Metaphor B.T. Calloway

SDBC #005 – Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

Sexy Drunken Book Club #005
07/06/2014, 4:45pm.

This month on the SDBC Podcast: dystopia! The book chosen was Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, a possible glimpse into Earth’s future? Listen in and find out who gave it 10/10!

SDBC #004 – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie

Sexy Drunken Book Club #004
11/05/2014, 3:00pm.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie is the book for April! Did we all guess whodunit? Was it the butler? Whose scones are delicious? Found out and enjoy!