Sunday, July 11, 2010

Margaret Atwood's ChickieNobs

One of the many aspects of Oryx and Crake I liked: it has a few passages that read like philosophical thought experiments. My favorite is the initial revelation of ChickieNobs. Crake, super-genius transgenics researcher shows them to Jimmy, his best friend, on a tour of Crake's lab.

"This is the latest," said Crake.

What they were looking at was a large bulblike object that seemed to be covered with stippled whitish-yellow skin. Out of it came twenty thick fleshy tubes, and at the end of each tube another bulb was growing.

"What the hell is it?" said Jimmy.

"Those are chickens," said Crake. "Chicken parts. Just the breasts, on this one. They've got ones that specialize in drumsticks too, twelve to a growth unit."

"But there aren't any heads," said Jimmy. He grasped the concept-- he'd grown up with sus multiorganifer, after all-- but this thing was going too far. At least the pigoons of his childhood hadn't lacked heads.

"That's the head in the middle," said the woman. "There's a mouth opening at the top, they dump nutrients in there. No eyes or beak or anything, they don't need those."

"This is horrible," said Jimmy. The thing was a nightmare. It was like an animal-protein tuber.

"Picture a sea-anemone body plan," said Crake. "That helps."

"But what's it thinking?" said Jimmy.

The woman gave her jocular woodpecker yodel, and explained that they'd removed all the brain functions that had nothing to do with digestion, assimilation, and growth.

"It's sort of like a chicken hookworm," said Crake.

"No need for added growth hormones," said the woman, "the high growth rate's built in. You get chicken breasts in two weeks-- that's a three-week improvement on the most efficient low-light, high-density chicken farming operation so far devised. And the animal-welfare freaks won't be able to say a word, because this thing feels no pain."

"Those kids are going to clean up," said Crake after they'd left. The students at Watson-Crick got half the royalties from anything they invented there. Crake said it was a fierce incentive. "ChickieNobs, they're thinking of calling the stuff."

"Are they on the market yet?" asked Jimmy weakly. He couldn't see eating a ChickieNob. It would be like eating a large wart. But as with the tit implants-- the good ones-- maybe he wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

"They've already got the takeout franchise operation in place," said Crake. "Investors are lining up around the block. They can undercut the price of everyone else."

From Oryx and Crake, chapter 8, section "Wolvogs." (Page 202-203 in my edition.)

After some story-time has passed, Jimmy seems to eat almost nothing other than ChickieNobs Buckets O' Nubbins. Hilariously gross, just like most of the novel.

I think this would pair well with Douglas Adam's cow that wants to be eaten, to prompt discussion of the morality of meat-eating. My own initial reaction: it would be OK to eat ChickieNobs, but not OK to eat the willing cow.

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