Let me start with the fact that I like Margaret Atwood and that I had a friend recommend Year of the Flood, but when I found out it was the second book in the series, I decided to read this first. So, what that means is that this is really probably a 3 star book (because it was not much of a book), but I'm sort of giving her the benefit of the doubt here and upping it to 4 stars.
So, then you ask, why is this not a book? There is no story here. Let me tell you what happens: the main character (Snowman/Jimmy), wakes up and spends a day sort of sitting around his camp in the post-viral dystopia in which he believes he is the only remaining human. He realizes he is out of food so he goes on a hike to get more supplies from the Compound in which he last lived and then he comes back to his camp. Upon returning to camp, he discovers three other humans and the book ends. Yeah, yeah, there is enough there to make a book if there was some sort of epiphany or character growth or something, but there isn't. Really and truly, the whole rest of the story is Snowman remembering how he got to this point and explaining the strange creatures. In other words, the whole thing is back story. And that will be just fine assuming that this is a trilogy and that Year of the Flood is meaningful.
The back story is interesting and compelling and very creative. Atwood deals with genetic modification in a new and interesting way (Never Let Me Go also does a good job and The Bradbury Report isn't too bad) and Crake's theories are very logically compelling.
As always, Atwood's descriptions of human emotions and reactions are quite accurate and interesting: "they wouldn't have done so much earnest, blameless gazing at each other in Andre's Bistro at OrganInc. If they'd been having a thing already they'd have been brusque and businesslike in public, they'd have avoided each other if anything". Also, her comments on sex/gender/power: "looking at her, you knew that a woman of such beauty, slightness and one time poverty must have led a difficult life, but that this life would not have consisted in scrubbing floors." and "love was undependable, it came and then it went, so it was good to have a money value, because then at least those who wanted to make a profit from you would make sure you were fed enough and not damaged too much. Also there were many who had neither love nor a money value, and having one of these things was better than having nothing." and of course the ironic: "to reassure them, he tried his best to appear dignified and reliable, wise and kindly. A lifetime of deviousness came to his aid."
I liked the set up with Crake's love of Blood and Roses (even though Atwood follows through with Maddaddam as the reining game with the extinction theme and acquisition of the grandmaster brains) and his ultimate game winning play of destroying everything by creating a race that will not create art (so the blood wins out) and yet will be content and satisfied. I get his elimination of the "G-spot" (no, not sex but God quest) and his logical conclusion that without sexual competition there will be no art (after all so much of human art has been created out of religious reverence or sexual/love angst).
However, I was disappointed that Jimmy was not smart enough (his own characterization of himself) to really engage Crake on this. Certainly, Jimmy is not convinced (and the novel plays out to show that the Crakers do begin to both need/desire some God story and create art/symbols of their own so Atwood herself does not agree with Crake), but he does not articulate any reasons on this. Personally, I have made the argument millions (that might not be an exaggeration) of times that human satisfaction (happiness) is dependent on a sense of accomplishment. The Crakers do not have anything to do (except make a fire and catch a fish for Snowman once a week), they cannot be at peace with themselves without a reason for being and so (this is my interpretation of course), they imbibe Snowman with their sense of well being. Keeping him safe and alive and reasonably fed is their accomplishment; when he is gone they experience angst and so revert to their inner "human" depth to find ways to express their need/desire to care for him.
Of course, Jimmy is just happy to see that Crake's evolutionary trappings did not all work out. He remembers Crake's warning to watch out for art, "As soon as they start doing art, we're in trouble. Symbolic thinking of any kind would signal downfall." Similarly, Crake has eliminated humor: "For jokes you need a certain edge, a little malice. It took a lot of trial and error and we're still testing, but I think we've managed to do away with jokes." Again, I ask to what purpose? A race of non-creative, non thinking beings is not human and will not "enjoy" life in the way that more advanced beings experience and enjoy things.
I liked Atwood's description (and Jimmy's repulsion) of the Crakers: "They look like retouched fashion photos, or ads for a high priced workout program. Maybe this is the reason that these women arouse in Snowman not even the faintest stirrings of lust. It was the thumbprints of human imperfection that used to move him, the flaws in design". I've read somewhere else (don't quite recall where) about how robot designers can't make machines that look too human-like because it messes with our heads. We don't like to see machines that are human, because then we have to remind ourselves that they are machines. We prefer to have them obviously different. These Crakers are obviously different, but they are also "too perfect" for Jimmy.
I loved all the of the cutesy names (OriganInc, ChickieNobs, AnooYoo, etc), they were creative and punny and just fun.
As for the moral question with genetic engineering, I'm not sure Atwood completely answers it. Certainly, Jimmy's mother and Crake's father were dissenters. Jimmy himself expresses some doubt: "he was worrying about the ChickieNobs and the wolvogs. Why is it he feels some line has been crossed, some boundary transgressed? How much is too much, how far is too far?", but never makes a real intellectual decision or determination about anything (Jimmy is really just a filter character through which Atwood shows us everything, but he is nothing in and of himself). Crake appears to side with the anti-establishment and he certainly usurps everything and gets the biggest dissenters to work for the largest corporation and then assist-i-cides the whole world, BUT ultimately he loses. Certainly the way things are leaning, the Crakers are not what Crake had hoped them to be; and despite his pronouncement "Once it's flattened, it could never be rebuilt." might also be wrong. At this point, I'm expecting a new society of "perfect" humans to be created from the Crakers, with each generation successively less "perfect" and more "human".
Overall, it was worth the short read and I'm hoping (assuming) that Year of the Flood is going to have more. As an aside, I loved the Asperger's comments ("Watson-Crick was known to the students 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; singletrack 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 behavior") as I have always thought that I might be borderline Asperger's and my husband is currently reading (and I am and starting today) Finch's The Journal of Best Practice. I would not have expected this book as a segue, but it seems to be a good one.