Step 1. Create cutesy, innocent-sounding names like ChickiNobs Bucket O’Nubbins, a chicken product made from genetically engineered biological monstrosities, or BlyssPluss, the ultimate Viagra pill that (spoiler alert!) kills everyone in Oryx and Crake. Margaret Atwood also named the Compounds where the upper-class scientists live: HelthWyzer Compound, AnooYoo, CryoJeenyus, RejoovenEsense. These infantile names serve to heighten the horror of their true purposes.
Step 2. Usurp familiar words or phrases and twist them into something that is terribly sinister, e.g., “There Is a Bomb in Gilead,” (The Handmaid’s Tale, 218). In the case of a bio-engineering society run amok, like in Oryx and Crake, combine words to form spliced monsters: pigoon, rakunk, snat, wolvog.
Step 3. Enact wholesale apocalyptic destruction on the environment: “And she [Jimmy’s mother in Oryx and Crake] used to snivel about her grandfather’s Florida grapefruit orchard that had dried up like a giant raisin when the rains had stopped coming, the same year . . . the Everglades had burned for three weeks straight” (63). Atwood uses Snowman, the main character who survived the plague that Crake started, to show how he must rummage through the rubble of the destroyed landscape to survive not only the dangerous lightning storms and terrible noonday heat but also the wolvogs and pigoons that have taken over. In The Handmaid’s Tale, rebels are sent to clean up chemical wastelands and soon die. Food is often scarce because of the bad soil.
Step 4. Set in motion hellish social orders that make your blood run cold. The Handmaid’s Tale depicts a society where a fundamentalist, patriarchal society reigns and women are valued almost exclusively for the children they can produce, since chemicals in the environment have increased mortality rates. In Oryx and Crake, a consumerist culture led by smart—but not wise—genetic engineers creates more and more unnatural experiments that lead to further economic chaos, class disparity, and behavior devoid of restraint.
Mix all that together, and add in unsentimental main characters who normalize the situation either through familiarity or routine: Jimmy/Snowman grew up accustomed to the concept of pigoons and a privileged lifestyle; Offred, a Handmaid, has for some years already been “in the system” and has a daily routine.
Serve such apocalyptic fare only to those who can stomach it. May be too spicy for young children.
Yield: hours and hours of dystopic fun and horror. Atwood style.
Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 2003.
—. The Handmaid’s Tale. New York: Anchor Books, 1998.