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The pre-apocalyptic world of
Oryx and Crake
was full of science and technology companies focused on transgenic research. In constantly pushing the boundaries of possibility, these companies eventually drove civilization over the edge. The term “transgenic research” refers to genetic research that involves artificially introducing genetic material from one species into the DNA of another species. Jimmy’s father worked on transgenic research projects. For example, he was the chief architect of the pigoon, a hybrid pig creature that he designed to grow human kidneys as well as human skin cells. The novel also references a range of other hybrid creatures, like rakunks, wolvogs, bobkittens, and luminescent rabbits genetically altered with jellyfish DNA. Like Jimmy’s father, Crake was a gifted researcher in the field of transgenics. He became so skilled, in fact, that early in his career he began developing his own projects and leading his own research facility. Crake’s most impressive feats of engineering included the BlyssPluss pill and his new race of genetically enhanced humans. Like Crake, few researchers were concerned about the implications of their work at the time. However, from Snowman’s perspective in the post-apocalyptic present, it is clear that the lust for scientific advancement led directly to the end of civilization through giving power and resources to unscrupulous researchers.
The society that Snowman grew up in was organized around corporations that wielded an unprecedented and dangerous amount of power. In the world represented in
Oryx and Crake
, corporations had become so powerful that they had reconfigured where and how people lived. In the twentieth century, people generally migrated toward urban centers. But as corporate power continued to rise throughout the twenty-first century, corporations moved out of the cities and established massive compounds that doubled as gated communities. Employees of these corporations lived in posh residential sectors with houses designed in a range of historic architectural styles. Corporate compounds also included movie theaters, malls, and other elements that once characterized middle-class suburban life but now belonged only to those privileged enough to have high-paying corporate jobs. The clearest example of the danger of corporate dominance appears at the end of the novel, when it becomes clear that the catastrophic event that killed most of the world’s population originated at RejoovenEsense, a particularly powerful corporation with an especially luxurious compound. The enormous resources provided by RejoovenEsense enabled Crake to do the research and development necessary to execute his apocalyptic plan.
Oryx and Crake
stages a symbolic battle between the sciences and the arts, with Crake representing the “science” side and Snowman representing the “art” side. In the pre-apocalyptic world of the novel, the sciences clearly dominated at the expense of the arts. All of the major corporations focused their vast financial and human resources on developing cutting-edge technologies and new lines of transgenic research. The corporate bias in favor of the sciences drove the economy as well as society at large. For this reason, schools placed a much greater emphasis on student success in their math and science coursework. When Crake and Jimmy were in high school, Crake won accolades for his natural abilities in math and science, whereas Jimmy, who got middling grades in his math and science classes, earned little more than his father’s disappointment. The gap between the two boys grew after graduation, when Crake attended a well-funded science institute and Jimmy went to a crumbling humanities academy. Over the course of their friendship, Crake always enjoyed more privileges than Jimmy, and he also openly expressed an indifference to art. Crake’s indifference gestures to the novel’s overarching theme of the devaluation of art.