Monday, June 2, 2008

Beggars in Spain

There are so many books that I have to read (for research) or that I read for fun (genre novels--Star Wars and the like) that it's rare a book stops me cold in my tracks, sticks with me for months, and really makes me think.

Nancy Kress' novel Beggars in Spain is one of those books. It has nothing in particular to do with beggars or with Spain, but instead it's the story of a slightly-future Earth where genetic modification has reached such a level that a small group of humans can go without sleep. Forever. But the implications of having 33% more life are far more than mundane, as the Sleepless create wide-scale changes in culture, law, morality, and more. I'm probably not doing the book justice, so I'll swipe from the dust jacket:

"In the year 2008, thanks to a stunning scientific breakthrough, Chicago millionaire Roger Camden and his wife Elizabeth produce the perfect child--a genetically modified daughter, Leisha, who is beautiful, extraordinarily intelligent . . .and who will never require sleep. She is one of the first twenty so-called 'Sleepless' in a world that will initially treat them as interesting anomalies . . . and later, as objects of envy and scorn. As the decades pass, the Sleepless population increases and prospers--and Leisha grows to become one of the ablest legal minds in America. But the heightened abilities and a shattering revelation about the near-immortality of 'her kind' has inflamed the wrath of the nation's Sleeper majority--spawning political repression and shocking mob violence that drives the Sleepless en masse from a society that rejects them . . . and, ultimately, from the Earth itself. But Leisha Camden remains behind--outcast from both worlds, yet unwilling to forfeit her rightful place in the community of man. Meanwhile, aboard an orbiting colony called Sanctuary, a new generation of genetically engineered super-child is born--the foundation of a brilliant and bitter Sleepless leader's devastating conspiracy of freedom . . . and revenge."

The aforementioned Leisha Camden is a remarkable character--in many ways the ultimate embodiment of the Enlightenment & a woman I have quite the crush on--but the genetically-engineered humans who come after her don't even think like anyone who has come before. The book raises profound issues of morality, law, and ethics; it's even made me interested in perhaps writing an article or two in the area of bioethics after my current projects are finished. Beggars in Spain is not an easy book to read--new characters are introduced without a great deal of exposition, there are sizable time jumps, etc. However, it's definitely worth wrestling with and I can't recommend it highly enough. There's also two sequels: Beggars & Choosers and Beggar's Ride.

So what are you waiting for? Go buy it!

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