The word “MaddAddam” is a palindrome: it’s a mirror word, the same word whether read forwards or backwards. (Why the double Ds? Two reasons: the intellectual excuse is that there are mirror Ds to go with the duplicated DNA used in genesplicing. But I made that up after the fact. The simple reason is that someone already had the domain name for “Madadam,” and I didn’t like the idea of my book title being used, possibly, for a porn site, as has been known to happen.)
In addition to this, “MaddAddam” is the name of a group of people performing acts of bio-resistance against the Corp-controlled régime that now holds extreme power. They in turn have taken their name from the codename of the GrandMaster who runs “Extinctathon,” an online game. “Adam named the living animals. MaddAddam names the dead ones. Do you want to play?” You can tell, both from the word itself and from its context, that the MaddAddam entity – whether singular or plural – is angry about something. Or possibly crazy, since “mad” can mean both of those things. Possibly angry enough to do crazy, risky things; which turns out to be accurate.
“Extinctathon” – in which the players challenge one another by guessing the names of recently extinct species, of which there are many now and many more in the future – is one of the violent and/or geeky games played in Oryx and Crake by Jimmy and Glenn, the two main characters, when they’re in high school. They too use code names to play this game: Glenn is “Crake,” and that’s the name we know him by. It’s as Crake that Glenn creates a bioengineered race of beings named after him, designed to avoid the planet-destroying mistakes made by old-style human beings (us). The Crakers are uniformly beautiful. They also have built-in sun block and built-in insect repellant, so they will never invent clothing, the growing of cotton, the raising of sheep, toxic dyes, or the industrial revolution. They purr to self-heal. They are so vegetarian they can eat leaves, like rabbits; they find meat repulsive, so they will never start raising livestock or farming chickens. And they mate seasonally and in groups, so they never experience sexual jealousy or rejection. Warfare and aggression are unknown to them.
But they wouldn’t stand a chance against old-style human beings, who would either kill them or exploit them, so Crake takes care of that problem by exterminating most of the old-style human race by means of a virus concealed in a sex-enhancement pill called BlyssPluss. The users of this pill do get the Blyss, but they also get the Pluss: once the virus has been deployed, it becomes contagious by touch, and spreads very rapidly.
But Jimmy has been chosen by Crake to survive the pandemic and become the guardian of the Crakers in the brave new depopulated world that awaits them after they leave the egg-shaped dome in which they were created. After the death of Crake and the woman both he and Jimmy love, a former child prostitute code-named Oryx, Jimmy renames himself Snowman – after the Abominable Snowman, which may or may not exist and which may or may not be human. This is how we first encounter him in Oryx and Crake: living in a tree, watching over the Crakers, and creating a mythology for them in which their Creator is Crake – true enough – helped by a goddess called Oryx, the authority in their interrelationships with the animals that surround them. These include several bioengineered species that have proliferated since the virus: glowing green rabbits, Mo’Hairs that grow human hair – originally for transplant – gentle Rakunks, a blend of raccoon and skunk, and Liobams, a cross between lions and lambs. Most importantly, the Pigoons, experimental pigs that contain, not only multiple human transplantable kidneys, but human neocortex tissue as well. Pigs in general are smart, but these pigs are very smart.
Oryx and Crake ends as Jimmy is trying to decide whether or not he can trust the three human stragglers he has stumbled across. Perhaps they might be his friends; on the other hand, perhaps they will be fatal to the Crakers. What to do?