MARGARET ATWOOD'S Oryx and Crake manages to be simultaneously bleak, witty and immensely enjoyable, no mean feat given that its subject is the destruction of humankind. Set in an unspecified location in North America, perhaps towards the end of the twenty-first century, it begins with a man waking up in a tree somewhere close to the sea. Protected hm the burning sun by a dirty sheet and dark glasses with one lens missing, he appears to be almost the sole survivor of some catastrophe, his only companions a group of genetically reprogrammed humanoids known as the Children of Crake. Ths relic of a vanished civilisation now answers to the name of Snowman, but he used to be Jimmy, a small boy living with his parents in one of the protected areas called the Compounds. Jirnrny's father was a 'genographer', and had helped to pioneer the 'pigoon' project, the modification of pigs to enable them to act as hosts to human-tissue organs. Each pigoon was capable of growing five or six ludneys at a time. Decades later, the Compounds are a wasteland and the pigeons are on the loose, along with wolvogs and snats and other spliced species, who prowl at the foot of Snowman's tree or slither in the undergrowth, waiting to catch him off his guard.
Atwood's classy fantasy moves at a leisurely pace, tracking to and fro