Friday, September 5, 2008

Ever Want To Be Sleepless?

36. Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress

I gave Kress another chance, and am so overwhelmingly glad I did. The Hugo and Nebula awards were well deserved.

Beggars in Spain is the story of humans genetically modified to be Sleepless, awake 24/7, never tiring, and how the "Sleeper" majority population turns on them. Sleepless, due to the way they are engineered, are happier, more intelligent, and live longer than Sleepers. As the first generation begins to grow up, Sleepers become jealous of their superhuman abilities and slowly begin to prohibit them from competitions and businesses, de facto or de jure, because of their unfair or "inhuman" advantages. The main character, Leisha Camden, is part of that first generation and she is born in 2008.

Kress deftly portrays the effects of American politics, ideals, and economics on the national social psyche. Americans strive to better themselves, thus the rise of the Sleepless, but a society based in individual achievement, with nothing for losers, will quickly try to eliminate competition and accumulate monopolies through any means possible, even hate and dissension. There were many insights I thought relevant to understanding our society today.

One of my favorite quotes is from Kress' projected New York Times editorial,

"The United States has never been a country that much values calm, logic, and rationality. We have, as a people, tended to label these things "cold." ...[the ellipses are my own] A peculiar aspect of this phenomenon is that it grows stronger in times of prosperity. The better off our citizenry, the greater their contempt for the calm reasoning that got them there, and the more passionate their indulgence in emotion (81)."

Just something to think about. I really recommend Beggars in Spain to anyone who loves science fiction and even people who do not, but are interested in economics or politics or sociology. The characters are easy to relate to and I did feel connected with them, but this is primarily a novel of astute observations about contemporary American society disguised in this imagined, but not implausible, scenario.

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