Oryx and Crake

“It is the strict adherence to daily routine that tends towards the maintenance of good morale and the preservation of sanity,” he says out loud.

“Never mind, old buddy,” said his father. “Women always get hot under the collar. She’ll cool down. Let’s have some ice cream.”

Women, and what went on under their collars. Hotness and coldness, coming and going in the strange musky flowery variable-weather country inside their clothes – mysterious, important, uncontrollable. That was his father’s take on things. But men’s body temperatures were never dealt with; they were never even mentioned, not when he was little, except when his dad said, “Chill out.” Why weren’t they? Why nothing about the hot collars of men?

“They had to be burned,” he said, “to keep it from spreading.” He didn’t look up; he was fooling with his pocket calculator, jotting with his pencil. “What from spreading?” “The disease.” “What’s a disease?” “A disease is like when you have a cough,” said his mother. “If I have a cough, will I be burned up?” “Most likely,” said his father, turning over the page.

Jimmy’s mother’s hair was what she herself called dirty blonde. (“Not dirty enough,” said his father.

Ramona was supposed to be a tech genius but she talked like a shower-gel babe in an ad. She wasn’t stupid, said Jimmy’s dad, she just didn’t want to put her neuron power into long sentences.

They spent the first three years of school getting you to pretend stuff and then the rest of it marking you down if you did the same thing.

He too is a castaway of sorts. He could make lists. It could give his life some structure.

We are not here to play, to dream, to drift. We are here to practise Life Skills.

This hearty way of talking was getting worse, as if his father were auditioning for the role of Dad, but without much hope. Jimmy had done enough faking himself so he could spot it in others, most of the time.

Cork-nut, he’d say to anyone who pissed him off. Anyone who wasn’t a girl. No one but him and Alex the parrot knew exactly what cork-nut meant, so it was pretty demolishing. It became a fad, among the kids at the HelthWyzer Compound, so Jimmy was considered medium-cool. Hey, cork-nut!

Jimmy’s mother had left some new clothes for him, in the sizes she said he would soon grow into. They were sucky, like the clothes she always bought. Also they were too small.

Nevertheless there was something about Crake. That kind of cool slouchiness always impressed Jimmy, coming from another guy: it was the sense of energies being held back, held in reserve for something more important than present company.

These planned departures made him uneasy: they reminded him of Alex the parrot saying I’m going away now. There was too fine a line between Alex the parrot and the assisted suicides

Sometimes she would ask Crake if his room was tidy, though she never went in there herself. “She believes in respecting a child’s privacy,” said Crake, straight-faced. “I bet it’s your mouldy socks,” said Jimmy. “All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten these little socks.” He’d recently discovered the joys of quotation.

“Forget it,” says Snowman. “Let’s try again.” Toast was a pointless invention from the Dark Ages. Toast was an implement of torture that caused all those subjected to it to regurgitate in verbal form the sins and crimes of their past lives. Toast was a ritual item devoured by fetishists in the belief that it would enhance their kinetic and sexual powers. Toast cannot be explained by any rational means. Toast is me. I am toast.

“They didn’t have names,” said Oryx, “but I knew what they were.”

“What did you do for him? You sucked him off?” “Crake is right,” said Oryx coldly. “You do not have an elegant mind.”

“I don’t buy it,” said Jimmy. Where was her rage, how far down was it buried, what did he have to do to dig it up? “You don’t buy what?” “Your whole fucking story. All this sweetness and acceptance and crap.” “If you don’t want to buy that, Jimmy,” said Oryx, looking at him tenderly, “what is it that you would like to buy instead?”

“Why do you want to talk about ugly things?” she said. Her voice was silvery, like a music box. She waved one hand in the air to dry the nails. “We should think only beautiful things, as much as we can.

Then he opens up his cement-block cache, puts on his one-eyed sunglasses, drinks water from a stored beer bottle. If only he had a real beer, or an aspirin, or more Scotch.

When jumping off a bridge, clench your bum so the water won’t rush up your anus. When drowning in quicksand, take a ski pole. Great advice!

Caecotrophs were simply a part of alimentation and digestion, a way of making maximum use of the nutrients at hand. Any objections to the process were purely aesthetic. That was the point, Jimmy had said. Crake had said that if so it was a bad one.

“The male frog, in mating season,” said Crake, “makes as much noise as it can. The females are attracted to the male frog with the biggest, deepest voice because it suggests a more powerful frog, one with superior genes. Small male frogs – it’s been documented – discover that if they position themselves in empty drainpipes, the pipe acts as a voice amplifier, and the small frog appears much larger than it really is.” “So?” “So that’s what art is, for the artist,” said Crake. “An empty drainpipe. An amplifier. A stab at getting laid.”

“Your analogy falls down when it comes to female artists,” said Jimmy. “They’re not in it to get laid. They’d gain no biological advantage from amplifying themselves, since potential mates would be deterred rather than attracted by that sort of amplification. Men aren’t frogs, they don’t want women who are ten times bigger than them.” “Female artists are biologically confused,” said Crake. “You must have discovered that by now.” This was a snide dig at Jimmy’s current snarled romance, with a brunette poet who’d renamed herself Morgana and refused to tell him what her given name had been, and who was currently on a twenty-eight-day sex fast in honour of the Great Moon-Goddess Oestre, patroness of soybeans and bunnies.

“Those guys should be whacked,” said Crake. “Which ones? The peasants? Or the guys killing them?” “The latter. Not because of the dead peasants, there’s always been dead peasants. But they’re nuking the cloud forests to plant this stuff.” “The peasants would do that too if they had half a chance,” said Jimmy. “Sure, but they don’t have half a chance.” “You’re taking sides?” “There aren’t any sides, as such.”

As for Film-making and Video Arts, who needed them? Anyone with a computer could splice together whatever they wanted, or digitally alter old material, or create new animation. You could download one of the standard core plots and add whatever faces you chose, and whatever bodies too. Jimmy himself had put together a naked Pride and Prejudice and a naked To the Lighthouse, just for laughs, and in sophomore VizArts at HelthWyzer he’d done The Maltese Falcon, with costumes by Kate Greenaway and depth-and-shadow styling by Rembrandt. That one had been good. A dark tonality, great chiaroscuro.

The prospect of his future life stretched before him like a sentence; not a prison sentence, but a long-winded sentence with a lot of unnecessary subordinate clauses,

Hey, I’m the Student here and you’re the Service. Here it is, right on the letterhead, see? I’ve e-mailed this to the president.) (This is not what he actually said, of course. He knew better than that. He smiled, he presented himself as a reasonable human being, he enlisted their sympathy.)

But he took care never to get any less melancholy on a permanent basis. If he were to do that they’d expect a reward of some sort, or a result at least; they’d demand a next step, and then a pledge. But why would he be stupid enough to give up his grey rainy-day allure – the crepuscular essence, the foggy aureole, that had attracted them to him in the first place?

He wasn’t lying though, not all the time. He really did love these women, sort of. He really did want to make them feel better. It was just that he had a short attention span.

Crake and Jimmy kept in touch by e-mail. Jimmy whined about Martha Graham in what he hoped was an entertaining way, applying unusual and disparaging adjectives to his professors and fellow students.

Falling in love, although it resulted in altered body chemistry and was therefore real, was a hormonally induced delusional state, according to him. In addition it was humiliating, because it put you at a disadvantage, it gave the love object too much power.

As for sex per se, it lacked both challenge and novelty, and was on the whole a deeply imperfect solution to the problem of intergenerational genetic transfer.

Watson-Crick was known to the students there as Asperger’s U. because of the high percentage of brilliant weirdos that strolled and hopped and lurched through its corridors. Demi-autistic, genetically speaking; single-track tunnel-vision minds, a marked degree of social ineptitude – these were not your sharp dressers – and luckily for everyone there, a high tolerance for mildly deviant public behaviour.

Compared to this place, HelthWyzer was a pleebland, Crake replied. It was wall-to-wall NTs. NTs? Neurotypicals. Meaning? Minus the genius gene. So, are you a neurotypical? Jimmy asked the next

Accepted wisdom in the Compounds said that nothing of interest went on in the pleeblands, apart from buying and selling: there was no life of the mind. Buying and selling, plus a lot of criminal activity; but to Jimmy it looked mysterious and exciting, over there on the other side of the safety barriers. Also dangerous. He wouldn’t know the ways to do things there, he wouldn’t know how to behave. He wouldn’t even know how to pick up girls. They’d turn him upside down in no time, they’d shake his head loose. They’d laugh at him. He’d be fodder.

“Them?” “Nature and God.” “I thought you didn’t believe in God,” said Jimmy. “I don’t believe in Nature either,” said Crake. “Or not with a capital N.”

“Those walls and bars are there for a reason,” said Crake. “Not to keep us out, but to keep them in. Mankind needs barriers in both cases.”

“After that.” “What do you mean, after that?” “After you’ve cured everything going.” Jimmy made a pretence of thinking. No point doing any actual thought: it was a foregone conclusion that Crake would have some lateral-jump solution to his own question.

His social life was – for the first time in many years – a zero: he hadn’t been stranded in such a sexual desert since he was eight.

Ramona invited Jimmy for the holidays, but he had no wish to go, so he pleaded overwork. Which was the truth, in a way, as he’d come to see his job as a challenge: how outrageous could he get, in the realm of fatuous neologism, and still achieve praise?

too many steroids could shrink your dick, and though it said on the package that this problem had been fixed due to the addition of some unpronounceable patented compound, he’d written enough package copy not to believe this.

respectable men, accountants, lawyers, merchants dealing in patio furniture

No animals about, apart from a trio of crows perched on the rampart. They exchange a few caws, of which he is probably the subject.

“What pays for all this?”

“Grief in the face of inevitable death,” said Crake. “The wish to stop time. The human condition.” Which was not very informative, said Jimmy.

I thought, since I’m Crake here, you could go back to being Thickney, the way you were when we were – how old?” “Fourteen.” “Those were definitive times,” said Crake.

He looks around for a stick to use as a crutch, finds one. Good thing about sticks, they grow on trees.

He could have mentioned the change in Crake’s fridge magnets. You could tell a lot about a person from their fridge magnets, not that he’d thought much about them at the time.