"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 101
Pictured today is the cover of the Oryx and Crake edition I would have had if I had been willing to read it in uni. That "frenemy" whom I told you about was so eager for me to read it even after I told her I didn't think it would fit into my book budget, that she offered to buy my copy from me after the trimester, if it were very gently used, at a very generous price. But as I explained, it just wasn't worth it. On the other hand, I'm quite happy to be reading Oryx and Crake today with you all. So it worked out in the end, aye? =)
"We give people hope. Hope isn't ripping off!"
"At NooSkins' prices it is. You hype their wares and take all their money and then they run out of cash, and it's no more treatments for them. They can rot as far as you and your pals are concerned. Don't you remember the way we used to talk, everything we wanted to do? Making life better for people--not just people with money. You used to be so . . . you had ideals then."
"Sure," said Jimmy's father in a tired voice. "I've still got them. I just can't afford them . . . Anyway, [this research has] been paying for your room and board, it's been putting the food on the table. You're hardly in a position to take the high ground."
I just disliked Jimmy's mother at first, but now I see that she's more complex than I thought. While I'm still not happy that she just gave up on being a mother (and then complained about how her son was turning out--just like the parents I wrote about in my Reading Diary entry on John Taylor Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction), I'd love to know more about her. What was the incident that was just too much for her? Was there another incident that made her finally decide to take action so many years later? And did the latter have anything to do with Crake?
In the next three chapters we finally get to meet the two title characters--and it's easy to see why they continue to haunt Snowman's imagination long after they seem to be out of his life.
("Rakunk" to "Pixieland Jazz")
There's certainly something of the cult leader in Crake, although the only disciple he seems to want in high school is Jimmy. Or am I going too far here, and is Crake just the sort of bad influence whom all impressionable boys are vulnerable to? I do see an element of grooming in all the time they spend together, although they do no more than what all the other teenage boys of their world do--namely, playing online games for hours on end and watching porn. It's drugging, yes; and still under Gatto's influence, I can see it as part of a wider panem et circenses strategy to keep "the masses" complacent. But is there also a personal sinister element? (Atwood is really making me paranoid about Crake!)
What is clear is that Jimmy gets prolonged exposure to a lot of things that he might otherwise not have looked at twice . . . and that while he follows Crake's lead, Crake often just humours him. (Oh. Like frenemies. =P) But I love the games that they play together and what these tell us about their culture, so I'll give them a special focus here.
. . . For a whole month, they'd had to play Barbarian Stomp (See If You Can Change History!). One side had the cities and riches and the other side had the hordes and--usually, but not always--the most viciousness. Either the barbarians stomped out the cities or else they got stomped, but you had to start out with the historical disposition of energies and go on from there. Rome versus the Visigoths, Ancient Egypt versus the Hyksos, the Aztecs versus the Spaniards. That was a cute one because it was the Aztecs who represented civilisation while the Spaniards were the barbarian hordes. You could customise the game as long as you used real societies and tribes, and for a while Crake and Jimmy vied with each other to see who could come up with the most obscure pairing.
An interesting take on history, aye? Can't you just see the History teachers promoting this "educational" game? And it makes a great dual-purpose circus: not only does it keep its young players entertained and passive, but it also reinforces the idea of civilisation versus barbarity, which the Compounds use to keep their residents obedient and grateful. And even if some players identify with the barbarians each time, that's perfectly all right: it's only virtual rebellion, easily kept under control.
The "trading game" Blood and Roses is even more fascinating. I love the comparison to Monopoly, because it is so true that some people think of atrocities (Blood) and artistic and scientific achievements (Roses) merely in terms of liabilities and assets . . . and that they act accordingly. Just the other day, a colleague was telling me that if you look at the map of Africa's ebola outbreaks and the map of Africa's oil wells, you'll start to believe that it is all being engineered for some petrol-hungry countries' profits. I haven't done the comparison myself, but if it were true, it would totally be a move in Blood and Roses!
You rolled the virtual dice and either a Rose or a Blood item would pop up. If it was a Blood item, the Rose player had to chance to stop the atrocity from happening, but he had to put up a Rose item in exchange. The atrocity would then vanish from history, or at least the history recorded on the screen. The Blood player could acquire a Rose item, but only by handing over an atrocity, thus leaving himself with less ammunition and the Rose player with more. If he was a skillful player, he could attack the Rose side by means of the atrocities in his possession, loot the human achievement, and transfer it to his side of the board. The player who managed to retain the most human achievements by Time's Up was the winner. With points off, naturally, for achievements destroyed through his own folly and cretinous play.
And how do we price achievements like the Mona Lisa, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and the Great Pyramids? By market value, of course! Similarly, we price atrocities by the number of corpses they produced. While it makes some sense to have the best and the worst fruits of humanity go up against each other, it still boggles the mind a bit that we got from there to the treating of human lives as just another form of currency. Obviously, there's a problem with the premise--but never mind that now. Instead, tell me: which great work of art, music or architecture would you trade for the chance to have nipped the ebola outbreak in the bud?
Extinctathon is the least interesting to me, but of course it's probably the most relevant game of the three. =P It also seems the most subversive. I can't imagine how a fixation on the thousands of obscure species which have gone extinct in the last fifty years would be beneficial to the Compounds. I guess we'll learn more later.
When Jimmy and Crake aren't playing games, they're being voyeurs on the Internet--and it's really all the same to them whether they're watching executions, assisted suicides, pornography, or an exhibitionist with cameras all over her house and some very odd habits. I find it interesting that Crake insists that the illegally filmed beheadings are all staged, but keeps watching them, anyway. I don't think the boys are looking for highs as much as they are searching for authenticity.
And of course the porn brings us to Oryx, whose business was production rather than consumption.
These men all had ideas about what should be in their movie. They wanted things in the background . . . or they wanted ropes, or screaming, or shoes. Sometimes they would say, Just do it, I'm paying for it, or things like that, because everything in these movies had a price. Every hair bow, every flower, every object, every gesture. If the men thought up something new, there would have to be a discussion about how much that new thing ought to cost.
"So I learned about life," said Oryx . . . "That everything has a price."
"Not everything" [said Jimmy] "That can't be true. You can't buy time. You can't buy . . ." He wanted to say love, but hesitated. It was too soppy.
"You can't buy it, but it has a price . . . Everything has a price."
I found the story of Oryx's childhood, so different from those of Jimmy and Glenn, difficult to read--and at first I thought it was because she is closer to our own time, technologically speaking, than the boys are. We may not be able to help the children in the Compounds (not even our own versions of the Compounds), but we have always been in a position to help children like Oryx and her companions. Unfortunately, we tend to do worse than just ignore them. It also dawned on me that the reason why Oryx made me so uncomfortable was the same reason why Crake wants to think that the public beheadings are all fake: consumer guilt. We don't like to think that people are actually suffering in order to make our lives easier, whether they are shelling out their life savings for NooSkins cosmetic treatments or crying their way through a porno.
There is also a lot in this section about the future Children of Crake and Children of Oryx, but I left them out because they didn't grab me the way these other points did. Of course, if anyone wants to discuss them, feel free to bring them up in the combox as well!
What are your thoughts on Chapters 4 to 6?
1) Have you ever sacrificed something nice for one of your own ideals? (Or if you don't mind going in the other direction, have you ever sacrificed one of your own ideals for something nice?)
2) Can you think of a popular pastime among young people which gives them an outlet for rebellion while reinforcing the status quo?
3) Did learning a sad story behind a good book, movie, or other "human achievement" ever reduce your enjoyment of it?
4) If trading what you consider the greatest human achievement of all time would mean that child prostitution never happens in all human history, would you make that deal?
Image Source: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood