It started with growing human organs inside pigs - pigoons they call them - but scientists were intent on solving all of humankind's problems with genetic engineering and the big businesses just wanted to make more money. In the future, a man now known as Snowman lives alone in a tree. He must watch over the Children of Crake, with their green eyes, UV resistant skin and childlike thoughts and try not to dwell on his memories, especially not the whisperings of his lost love, Oryx.
The story of what happened is told through Snowman's flashbacks, from when he was known as Jimmy. Even when he was a young boy, he was living in a somewhat dystopian world, his parents working within a research facility with no contact from the outside world other than dubious internet access. The world that Snowman lives in is considerably different and the information is revealed at a perfect pace to piece together the events.
Jimmy doesn't have an aptitude for science or numbers but he is good with words. He clings to them as if they are under threat of extinction, like the fate of so many animals have before them. His childhood friend, Crake, was always the genius of the two but perhaps lacking in empathy.
Whilst I understood Oryx's role in the events, the whole passages about her childhood didn't seem necessary. Her parents were poor and starving and sold her to a man for nefarious purposes that they chose to be ignorant of. Jimmy pries into her experiences and she tells him quite a lot but she has a flippant attitude to the whole thing. I can only think that Atwood is trying to highlight the things wrong in the world and this is why something needed to be done. However Crake's logic works without being spoon-fed this information, we all know the challenges of the world and it could have been woven into the story in a more elegant fashion.
Atwood makes some interesting observations about the evolution of mythologies and religion. It's easier for Snowman to invent stories to explain the world than to try and explain reality. Without science, humans need to believe in something and curiosity can't be hard-coded out. All it takes is a seed to germinate and transform to become dogma further down the line.
The ending was a real disappointment. Not that of the past, I thought that was wrapped up nicely, but the ending of the “present day” (both past and present are in the future in this case) left me checking that I wasn't missing a few extra pages. The Year of the Flood is not a sequel but a book set in the same world whose plot runs alongside Oryx and Crake from what I can tell. I think there may be answers in it but I don't think that excuses the ending here.
Other than my gripes about Oryx and the ending, it was an excellent read. There's an especially good bit about trying to explain toast to someone who has no concept of bread. If you've enjoyed Margaret Atwood's other work you will know what to expect but I think it is also an example of good dystopian fiction with sensible scientific theories backing it up. It may go a bit far in this fictional scenario, but people are trying to grow human organs in pigs already...