A Contemporary Brave New World
“Why is it he feels some line has been crossed, some boundary transgressed? How much is too much, how far is too far?” (206)
Although I have not yet finished Atwood’s masterful Oryx and Crake, the parallel between this novel and Huxley’s Brave New World is undeniable. The latter was a response to scientific developments such as Spemann’s experiments involving a sort of Bokanovskification of salamander embryos, using extrapolation of current trends to warn of the socio-ethical ramifications of unbridled and unexamined scientific advancement. Atwood follows this pattern to a tee, responding to the rampant scientific intervention in every aspect of our contemporary lives.
One of the most controversial fields in which science is playing an increasingly powerful role is physical and neurocognitive enhancement of ourselves. Up to 16% of college students use drugs like Ritalin and Adderall as study aids (source), the sale of nutritional supplements for improved memory exceeds $1 billion per year (source), athletes in sports as varied as cycling, baseball, and track have been embroiled in steroid scandals, and a quick trip to the dermatologist for an injection of Botox is now common practice. All of this striving for perfection represents “a Promethean aspiration to remake nature, including human nature, to serve our purposes and satisfy our desires” (source) and is precisely the type of advancement that Atwood is urging us to weigh and consider. She demands that we assess at what point we stop being human and start becoming Children of Crake, engineered beings representing humanity only in silhouette.
While Atwood’s message mirrors Huxley’s warning, her style more closely matches that of Ishiguro in Never Let Me Go. The narrative of Jimmy/Snowman, alternating between the current post-apocalyptic world and the time leading up to and culminating in that world, is reminiscent of Kathy’s story, which switches between her current life as a carer and her past life at Hailsham and in the Cottages. Similarly, as Ishiguro let the secret of the clones come out piece by piece, Atwood reveals only crumbs of information as to what happened to result in the world of Oryx and Crake in a manner that is so understated that they are almost easy to miss.
Combined, these stylistic elements allow Atwood to weave an enthralling story that I am anxious to finish discovering.