First Strike

The last pages of Oryx and Crake takes us spiraling down into Jimmy-the-Snowman's feverish final thoughts as he prepares to encounter other human survivors. He faces a question that in some ways is a core concern of the novel—is one hospitable even to the extent one exposes one's self and others to violence.

“He could finish it now, before they see him, while he still has the strength. While he can still stand up. His foot’s like a shoeful of liquid fire. But they haven’t done anything bad, not to him. Should he kill them in cold blood? Is he able to? And if he starts killing them and then stops, one of them will kill him first. Naturally.” ~Atwood. “Oryx and Crake.”

Obviously, such hospitality is not common in our history. We have a tendency instead to follow Jimmy's inclinations here, to strike first and ask questions later. 

Sitting here in Las Vegas, I'm looking out a hotel window at the desert stretching away in every direction. In conjunction with this passage I think of just how far the "first strike" and "mutual destruction" logic has taken us. Not far away, we developed and tested the most destructive force known to man—nuclear weapons. Our dilemmas haven't changed much throughout history (do I kill first or risk being killed), yet the violent tools with which we play out such dramas now have global effects.

Atwood's speculative fiction has placed pressure on so many issues, so many ethical and moral conundrums it's hard not to be impressed. And we only read the first volume of the trilogy!