BOOKS: SF novel with (anti?) posthuman theme
Fri, 5 Mar 1999 03:35:28 EST


I found a review of this book in "Beggars In Spain". I know it used to be available via Laissez Faire Books, so it might have some libertarian leanings. From the reader's summary, the theme seems to deal with posthumanism- in this case, the creation by genetic engineering of a race of sleepless beings with all the time in the world to improve themselves.

Has anybody here read it?

Jean-Francois Virey

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress

Review Copyright 1999 Mariann T. Woodward

What would you do if you never needed to sleep? If you never got tired? How many of us say, when overwhelmed with life and its activities, "If only I had an extra so-many hours...?" For Leisha Camden, the question begets an obvious answer: Apply oneself to become the best and brightest in everything.

Such is the premise of Nancy Kress' novel, BEGGARS IN SPAIN. In this imaginary world, genetic manipulation has spawned considerable interest in creating the perfect child. From physical characteristics such as hair and eye color to mental characteristics such as intelligence or giftedness in a particular academic area, expectant parents pay for a custom-made child. One such family, the Camdens, opt to pursue a secretive, highly experimental and ethically debated characteristic for their unborn daughter: sleeplessness. The goal, as Roger sees it, it to produce a perfect individual with literally all the time in the world to read, write, study, learn, and apply herself to be the best she can be.

Leisha is the result of her father's determination and her mother's reluctance, but so is her fraternal twin, another girl. Alice is not a sleepless like her sister; she is a normal, reasonably healthy child, yet she struggles for her family's acceptance. As their mother grows increasingly unstable, the twins quickly learn that only Leisha is deemed special in their father's eyes. Despite Leisha's assertions that her sister could and would be just as special, but in a different way, Alice is, after all, just a sleeper. In Leisha's light, Alice simply fades away into darkness.

As childhood disappears and Leisha becomes an adult with numerous dysfunctional relationships with friends, lovers, and family, so begins the trouble for other people like her in Kress' world. Normal people are, of course, threatened by the sleepless and their abilities. By not having to sleep eight to ten hours a day, the sleepless use the extra time to study and practice until they perfect and master a skill or lesson. As Leisha moves further into adulthood, segregation and restrictions become prevalent as protest groups form to tear down the sleepless' dominance. The sleepless retreat into their own world, first on private property, then orbiting the planet on a space station. What began as a parent's desire to see a child have all that is possible becomes, quite simply, a war between the haves and the have-nots. The beggars.