Posts Tagged ‘The Road’

Thoughts on Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake by way of wilderness and post-apocalyptic genre traditions
"Snowman wakes before dawn"

“Snowman wakes before dawn” – Oryx and Crake fan art by Jason Courtney
More images: http://www.perdador.com/f6update/illustration_f9.html

I gave a guest lecture yesterday on Oryx and Crake for a colleague’s 200-level Environmental Literature course.  My presentation was organized around the ways that the book participates in genres, challenges some of  their conventions, and updates the “classic” dystopia (WeBNW, 1984, et cetera) by moving the locus of power from the centralized state to a more nebulous net of corporations and their mercenaries.

Because nearly any lower-level survey of environmental literature will necessarily include readings drawn from the mostly-American, white male-dominated, wilderness tradition, my prep also involved looking for ways to connect what is going on in Oryx and Crake with those texts that students had recent familiarity with.  I’m not sure how well the lecture worked in setting this up, but the result was something that, in retrospect, seems quite obvious.  However, I hadn’t previously fleshed it out, which was kind of weird (I guess wilderness writing hasn’t been on my mind much recently).  My main take away point is this:  Post-apocalyptic protagonists share a number of traits with protagonists or narrators of the wilderness genre.  This has interesting implications for connecting a reading of Snowman in Oryx and Crake to both genres.

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When the gods do it, it is horrific and epic in scale.  But when characters in post-apocalyptic fiction are driven to it by circumstances, it is almost always laughably unbelievable.

Saturn Devouring His Son (c. 1819–1823) - Goya

Spoilers for Bodeen’s The Compound, McCarthy’s The Road, and a few other things follow, if you care.  Post also contains unapologetic and practical considerations of cannibalism with no moral/ethical judgment on those who eat others to survive.

Reading S.A. Bodeen’s YA post-apocalyptic novel The Compound, I was annoyed at how poorly handled and unrealistic one of the central horrors of the story was.  It’s an otherwise decent read (though with a predictable “twist”), but it is bogged down with a central motif that just doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.

The author sketches a somewhat preposterous scenario where survivors of a supposedly apocalyptic event, confined to a well-stocked compound, eventually begin to run low on food stores and contemplate killing and eating their “surrogates” to survive.  These surrogates are genetic clones of our survivors and have been bred through in-vitro fertilization by way of the evil genius science guy antagonist and brought to term (rapidly) by a quasi-surrogate mother (she’s their real genetic mom too–the horror!).  The lurid situation and moral quandary, then, is supposedly that these surrogate babies are not just real people, but also siblings/children.

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