Once Upon A Wolvog

Stories from the front lines


The Risks of Storytelling

Throughout the whole trilogy of Maddaddam storytelling has come up in each book and it is the main way we as a reader get our information about each character. Here are a few examples of storytelling: In the first book, Oryx and Crake, we see Jimmy use storytelling with the Crakers to explain to them how the world works and in the third installment of the trilogy we pretty much see storytelling happening the whole time with Zeb explaining his life to Toby and Toby telling stories to the crakers.


Now I personally believe that there are some risks that come with Storytelling.

One risk that comes with storytelling is the fact that the storyteller can literally say whatever he wants and it’s up to the listener to decide to believe him or not. In Jimmy and toby’s situation, they could have totally told the crackers a complete lie and said that aliens arrived at earth and kidnapped most people then killed the rest with a disease.

In all honesty, I probably would have done some lying to the Crakers if I were in jimmy’s shoes in Oryx and Crake. If everyone in the world is dead and there is no one to tell you that what you are saying is wrong You better bet I am going to have a little bit of fun with that!

What about you? If you were the last person left in the world and you had a room full of 30 dumb people who believed everything that you said, would you lie to them or try and tell the truth?


What’s in a Name?

It’s a long- held idea that names carry with them meaning, along with a sort of determination or prediction of the character of the person it’s associated with. The thing that made me curious is that usually our names are given to us as children long before we have developed any sort of personality; yet in Maddaddam and the other books, many people are referred to by names that were picked for or by them at a much later age. This made me wonder to what extent the Maddaddam names relate to their respective characters.


The Thicknee, or Bush-stone Curlew, is a bird found in Australia. Apart from it’s ‘remarkable courtship dance’ (we are all well aware of Jimmy’s ability to attract girlfriends), I found little in the ways of behavioural traits that linked to Jimmy except for Atwood’s description in Oryx and Crake: “a… double jointed bird that used to hang around in cemeteries, -and Jimmy suspected- because Crake liked the sound of it as it applied to Jimmy”. It’s interesting to note that Crake gave Jimmy his Maddaddam name: you could interpret it as the beginning of Crake’s deception. Also, the idea that his extinct animal is found in cemeteries among the dead is a kind of foreshadowing, which could even hint at Jimmy’s future of survival during and after the pandemic, in a global graveyard!


None of the Maddaddam trilogy books really offer an explanation as to why Glenn chose to be Crake; the only thing mentioned is that the Red-Necked Crake is a relatively rare bird species. This could indicate that Crake had a type of superiority complex, though. However, I found indications that a Crake’s behaviour tends to be rather secretive. This is definitely related to Glenn’s behaviour, since throughout the trilogy he comes off to everyone as a rather mysterious person, and never really reveals his plans to anyone. Even the reader is left hanging and we never get a true glimpse into his thought process that led to him wiping out almost all of humanity.

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Toby/Inaccessible Rail

The Inaccessible Rail is yet another bird, except this one is flightless. Toby didn’t put too much thought into her choice, yet when I picked apart the details I was able to find some connections (although some might accuse me of grasping at straws!). One slightly entertaining aspect of Rails is that they’re pretty territorial, and while Toby comes across in general as the wise mother figure to the group, she gets very jealous and protective over Zeb once they start being in a relationship. Similarly, Rails form permanent pair bonds, which again is connected to Zeb who was even convinced to settle down with her. Considering that Zeb introduced Toby to Maddaddam and that they eventually fall in love, Atwood seems to have picked an appropriate creature for her.

Zeb/Spirit Bear

Spirit Bears are a special type of black bear that have a rare gene that makes them white.  As the name suggests, they have a spiritual significance to Native Americans. They are revered and protected, and as such killing them is taboo. This sort of legendary status surrounding them definitely relates to how the Crakers love, respect, and to some extent worship Zeb, in my opinion. I think that it’s also significant that Adam gave Zeb this nickname. It appears to me that it reflects Adam’s perception of Zeb, which would be one of a big brother wanting to protect his little brother; but it could simply be Adam finding a clever way of mocking Zeb’s Bearlift adventures. Regardless, Zeb seems undeniable connected to bears, as he himself admits that his meditation animal was the bear he ate when stranded in the wilderness.

Overall, it seems to me that Atwood was able to cleverly use animals that reflected their characters at least a little. What do you think? Is there truth to this, or is it mere conspiracy? Are there any links to the behaviour and character of Swift Fox, Oryx, Lotis Blue, Ivory Bill, and the rest of the Maddaddamites?


Anti-don’t: The Problem with Antibiotics

It’s a refrain heard continuously in The Year of the Flood and even more prevalently in Oryx and Crake: Don’t get infected, because it’ll be the end of you. Inevitably, it’s disease that kills the world, and infection that kills Jimmy in a slow, painful death. Despite the continuous referencing to the problems of new diseases and increasingly deadly microbes, I noticed that it wasn’t really mentioned by its true name: antibiotic resistance.

So, what is antibiotic resistance?

It’s a pretty simple concept. When you take an antibiotic, it doesn’t really target a specific bacteria in your system. Instead, it wipes out most of the ones it comes into contact with. Keyword: most. Some bacteria are ‘lucky’ enough to have a genetic mutation that lets them survive this attack. Because they’re not dead, and all the bacteria it was competing with are gone, they can multiply as much as they please.


Why is this a concern? We have other drugs to kill them, right?

We do! The problem is that these drugs work in the same way. They might kill the ones resistant to lesser drugs, but eventually the same thing will happen.
To make things worse, we’ve plateaued in terms of antibiotic discoveries, and we’re starting to find bacterium resistant to the ‘last resort’ drug in over 10 countries. To add to that, antibiotic resistance is killing 700 000 people per year, and we’re on track to have it wiping out 10 million in 2015! You can read more about this and get a more detailed story of the current situation here.

Orxy and Crake and the Underlying Causes of Resistance

There are two words that can encapsulate why this is becoming a huge problem: Overprescription and Antiseptics.  But let’s look at this through Oryx and Crake‘s world. In the compounds, nearly everything is artificial, and the pursuit of health and youth has led to incessant pill-popping. Everything is also highly sterilized: as a kid, Jimmy had to walk through ‘toxic disinfectants’ in order to prevent getting sick.  This overindulgence is  what kills Jimmy, in an indirect way: he injects himself with one of the most powerful cure-all medications -Crake’s pleeblands vaccine- to fix his infected foot, yet it does nothing. Basically, the over-prescription and consumption of drugs is what makes disease so effective in Atwood’s world- it’s highly evolved and subsequently lethal.

You might be thinking that it’s not an issue today. Surely we don’t consume so many drugs to make it like in the book?

Well, the reality is debatable, but some facts make it pretty clear. Some estimates put overprescription for illnesses as banal as sore throats as high as 60%, and the food industry alone uses over 63 000 metric tons of antibiotics. Doesn’t sound so insignificant now, does it?

Why aren’t the Pleeblanders Affected as much as Compounders?

I also noticed that antibiotic resistance and infection were a huge concern for the Compound people, but it wasn’t really a serious issue amongst pleeblanders. In The Year of the Flood, non-compounders are concerned with disease, but they don’t take measures as drastic as the compounders. They certainly don’t need vaccines just to go visit someplace, like Jimmy and Crake do!

The answer is a bit ironic, but studies done even today are confirming this: exposure, rather than sterility, is the best medicine for the prevention of allergies, asthma, and even potentially disease. If you play in the dirt, you’re exposing your immune system to (usually) low-grade irritants and infections, which builds up an effective response. This “training” helps when you confront something more serious; your body is more likely to fight it off. Tragically, the compounders are obsessed with fighting this reality, and because of their sterile world they depend on fallible drugs to keep them healthy.

If they all lived like the God’s Gardeners, would they be able to avoid this ultimate downfall? Or has Atwood’s world (and indeed our own) been twisted past the point where our natural systems can compensate for our artifice? But what we can say for certain is that in the long run, the cure-all isn’t always the true cure, whether it’s through resistance, or a corporation looking to deliberately infect people for the sake of profit.



The Irony of Isolation

(Photo by Rachmad Sofyan)

Humans are wired to connect. To connect with others for our well-being. When we don’t connect, we isolate ourselves, we lose touch of who we are. This is a reoccurring theme in Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake” with Snowman and from reading the beginning of “The Year of the Flood”, this theme might be emerging with Toby and Ren. I’m referring to isolation; a lack of contact from others.

I would say that Jimmy (pre-Snowman), was a pretty lonely guy. For most of his life as Jimmy he would use sex, cigarettes, alcohol to bring him comfort and to fill the void that loneliness left. Or something like that. My point is that loneliness isn’t new to him. But after the plague, with no one to turn to, Snowman has no choice but to be alone. This is where isolation gets ironic. To replace the human interactions needed for him to be sane, he starts to make them up in his head. The irony makes sense now right? Readers witness him speaking to imaginary voices in his head many times, especially to imaginary Oryx and Crake.

According to a study from Cardiff University, isolation is linked to a higher risk of schizophrenia because of weaker social links and fewer friends. Isolation could also lead to hallucinations, another symptom of schizophrenia. Remember how Snowman tries to hallucinate the presence of Oryx before he starts to sobbingly jerk off into the night? The hallucinations he sometimes has are linked to the loneliness and loss of touch with reality that are caused by his isolation. Fear of others, low self-esteem, depression, and other mental problems can stem from or lead to isolation. In summary, isolation is both a cause and consequence for mental sufferings.

hwwgjp6q0qoiefniba3y(Illustration by John T Takai)

My fellow readers, we don’t necessarily have to be completely isolated from society to experience isolation. You and I could experience it. But does it always lead to a negative consequence? Here’s my question for you: do you think there are any positive consequences to isolation? To finish this off I’d like to invite you to read this interesting article I found about people’s testimonies regarding their experience with isolation. Happy reading!


Immortality: if it’s real.

I’ve always wondered, what if we were all immortal? What if our life has no end? What if we live forever? Well, being immortal have several consequences, some of which are obvious. Each day we change into different persons. A 10-year-old is not the same as a 20-year-old. If all the human beings were immortal, where would we all fit? Yes, earth is big, but thinking about immortality it is not as big as we think it is. Moreover, a person will hardly remember what he did at an age of 5. If a person has trouble remembering what he did at an age of five how will he remember what happened a thousand years or even a million years back? Also, being immortal doesn’t mean that you’re safe from any diseases. If you have a chronic disease you will most likely live with it for probably a million years and more! Imagine the hospitals, they would be crowded by people. Everything would change for the worse. Everything would be crowded and tight. It would be a total nightmare.

If you are interested, this is a ted talk about immortality:


To me, a better option than immortality is an increase in lifespan. If I have the opportunity to increase my lifetime to 200 years I would take it, because then I would have more time to contribute more to the world. But we never know what science can do. They will maybe invent a pill or a vaccine that will increase our lifespan. “Deleting genes could boost lifespan by 60 per cent, say scientists.” The plan restricts calories to between one-third and a half of normal intake. When humans tested out this theory of restricting calories, within three months they had reduced the causes linked to aging, diabetes, cancer and heart disease as well as cutting overall body fat. Essentially it tricks the body into aging more slowly.


What are your thoughts on this topic?  How will immortality or an increase in lifespan affect our daily lives? Which might be a better option: immortality, an increase in lifespan or maybe neither?

Dana Rammal