Visiting New Worlds
Tripwire’s editor-in-chief takes a look at two classic sci-fi novels released in illustrated format by the Folio Society recently: Kindred by Octavia E Butler and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood…
Writer: Octavia E Butler
Illustrations: James E Ransome
Introduction: Tananarive Due
Oryx and Crake
Writer: Margaret Atwood
Illustrations: Harriet Lee-Merrion
Both Kindred and Oryx and Crake are sci-fi books of sorts so we thought it would make sense to review the two of them together.
First up is Octavia E Butler’s Kindred, a book first published back in 1979 that tells the tale of Dana Franklin, a modern-day African-American woman who somehow finds herself back in the days of slavery in the US.
Throughout the book, she periodically returns to the early time period, drawn there because these are people who are directly connected to her family lineage. It’s a bold and brave book which offers a disturbingly evocative portrayal of life as a slave in America in one of its darkest modern periods. She brings the period to life with intelligence and humanity, peppering it with fleshed-out characters like her ancestor Rufus who jump off the page for the reader. The illustrations by Ransome are a little basic at times but they do help to enhance Butler’s story. The brief introduction by Due does put it into some sort of context for the reader.
KIndred is a very important book and the illustrations here do add a little something extra to the mix. It is very much in the milieu or tradition of other books like HG Wells’ The Time Machine, which cover similar ground, but because it is a modern novel, it is a little easier for contemporary readers to connect with Dana and her predicament. Folio should be commended for bringing this book back to people’s attention.
Next is Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, also a sci-fi novel like Kindred but one which is far more ambitious in its reach and intentions. Atwood of course is best-known these days for The Handmaid’s Tale but this book, which was first published in 2003, is an equally dynamic portrayal of a possible future for the world.
Oryx and Crake tells the story of Jimmy, who later changes his name to Snowman, and his friend Crake, who become friends as kids and make their way up the education and job ladder until their destinies diverge. Jimmy gets a menial job while Crake finds himself at the helm of a very powerful and influential role which could change the existence of the world they both inhabit.
Atwood has used a very clever conceit here, a classic sci-fi trick, where the world they inhabit has taken a slightly different path with hybrid species of animals created and people living in austere compounds to work and play. There is a disaster that occurs which is explained in flashback which changes the status quo of Jimmy’s existence, one which has a direct correlation to Crake’s work. Oryx is a girl who both Jimmy and Crake have a connection with, who acts as a narrative bridge between the pair.
Oryx and Crake is a very inventive and well-delineated sci-fi novel. Atwood is an exceptional writer and her prose here is some of the sharpest in modern literature. The relationship she assembles from scratch between Jimmy, Crake and Oryx appears simple at the start but the reader has invested so much in these characters that, by the time the shocking denouement occurs near the book’s end, it is impossible not to see this tale to its conclusion. Atwood is phenomenal at creating a new world too and populating it with flawed, fascinating characters.
Lee-Merrion’s illustrations, like Atwood’s prose, appear simple at first but there is a graphic power and elegance to them which really assists in bringing Atwood’s twisted world to life.
The introduction here by Atwood herself offers us a small glimpse into her approach with this book and sets the scene well for the story the reader is about to dive into.
Oryx and Crake is an exquisite edition and a truly immersive story. The best sci-fi transports you to the author’s world and weaves a story too compelling to turn away and Atwood’s book ranks among one of the best books of the genre ever.
Both books here have something to offer for readers and Kindred‘s power lies in its emotional honesty while Oryx and Crake sets the bar very high through the invention and ingenuity of Atwood’s writing. Yet again, the Folio Society has shown why they have a reputation for publishing modern and older classic books in a format which takes them to another level. These are both exceptional books which are a fantastic addition to the Folio’s already impressive library.
The Folio Society edition of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred, introduced by Tananarive Due and illustrated by James E. Ransome, is available exclusively from www.FolioSociety.com
The Folio Society edition of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, with new introduction by the author and illustrations by Harriet Lee-Merrion, is available exclusively from www.FolioSociety.com