Oryx and Crake
By Margaret Atwood
400 pp.; $26

When Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale was published in 1985, it provoked strong reactions from both sides of the culture wars: civil libertarians saw it as confirming their fears of an oppressive Christian Moral Majority, while evangelical Christians perceived it as directly attacking their faith.

Neither reaction was entirely justified. If anything, Atwood was warning us about our vulnerability to authoritarian Orwellian regimes that gain public support (or acquiescence) because of their promise to remedy the inevitable social chaos of permissive societies.

Oryx and Crake, her most recent novel, returns to her anti-utopian concerns, but now offers a Huxleyan analysis of our times, in the sense that it considers the price we may pay for looking to technology to remedy our ills, personal and social. Christians may even discover an ally of sorts in Atwood, who here displays a disturbingly prophetic vision that exposes the spiritual bankruptcy at the heart of our therapeutic technological society.

The admittedly odd title refers to two main characters, whose names derive from two animal species, now endangered, but extinct in the near future of the novel. Snowman, the narrator, has close ties to both characters: Crake is his only friend; Oryx, the only woman he has ever loved. Like Offred, the narrator of The Handmaid's Tale, Snowman begins speaking as the devastated survivor of a catastrophe that the book gradually discloses. But here the catastrophe goes well beyond the predictable (though painful) cycling of political regimes, for Snowman appears to be the only human alive.

Crake both masterminded this "final solution" and ensured Snowman's survival, and thus the novel ...

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