Saturday, November 12, 2011

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress - Why Spain Anyway?

Pros: Interesting concepts, philosophies, you wonder where it's going
Cons: Doesn't really go anywhere...

The Bottom Line: Another interesting read with some unique ideas and intriguing ways of presenting certain philosophies...but ultimately I thought, "...So?"

The September book of the 2011 ABC Book Club hosted by Calico Reaction was Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress. While the premise sounded interesting, ultimately it didn't suck me in. I told myself that if interlibrary loan couldn't come up with the book, then I'd just skip it altogether. I know. Me not make an effort? Even after signing up for the whole year? *shrug* What can I say? I have other things I want to read and I've been disappointed with many of the titles thus far. But onward.

Leisha Camden is a Sleepless - a genetically modified human being that has no need to sleep. Sounds pretty nifty, right? But when people are different, naturally there are those that fear and hate them. The world becomes divided between Sleepers and Sleepless. Eventually many try to cut themselves off and move to a place called Sanctuary. Only Leisha is left to watch as the world changes, eventually forgetting about the Sleepless. But there are those in Sanctuary who won't forget the Sleepers and their persecution of them...

That's the book in a nutshell. The book is divided into four parts, each one jumping ahead about 20 years or so. Things start off in 2008 (haha) where the genetic modifications for babies are in full swing, though the Sleepless part is just getting off the ground. The book finishes out in the 2090s where Sanctuary has moved into space and the Sleepless just can't seem to let things go.

The original blurb for the book is, I think, a bit misleading. Leisha does indeed do a lot of fighting to keep everyone from hating each other, once that doesn't work out how she expected, she literally just shuts down the rest of the book. She still sort of does things but...nothing really interesting. This is one of those books that is just barely interesting enough to keep reading. I could see a lot of people getting bored and putting the book down for a long time before picking it up again and maybe finishing. It's one of those books that I think eventually you begin to wonder, " this going to go somewhere or what?"

It's almost more of a commentary on human society than it is a story. It just uses sleeplessness as a medium. Even then, the whole Sleepless/Sleeper issue fades until the people of Sanctuary (one individual in particular) sort of wig out again. It's easy to see the arguments for both sides, and you may find yourself shifting from one to another as the book progresses. Even near the end, while I supported some of Sanctuary's reasons for wanting to do what they did, their ultimate motivations were still based on Sleeper/Sleepless hatred which by then was pretty much nonexistent. I sat there thinking, "Geez guys, let it go."

But I'm getting ahead of myself and talking too much about things that you probably won't understand. Indeed, it is an interesting book that looks at hate, the way society functions, the concepts of excellence and giving back to the world at large vs. the beggars of society that don't. How far should science go before they've gone too far? Is there such a thing as a perfect society? And would you be missing something important by missing out on sleep?

This story is like watching a long line of events unfold without a clear ending. I can easily see events continue to unfold in the same manner as in the past, so it didn't feel like a concrete ending to me. There's a lot of lead up with some characters that in the end seem a lot more like filler than necessary bits. At the very least these areas could be narrowed down. I've heard that this was actually a novella first - I wonder if maybe it should have stayed that way...or if anything, maybe just not stretched so long.

You know what? The design kind of reminded me of The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, only with more dialogue.

It's a hard book to review, a hard book to rate. And while I don't particularly recommend it, I do think it does qualify as better than average. I know, that sounds weird, but it's the kind of book that deserves a four star count, but not one I'm going to go around chucking at people demanding they read it. Feel free to read a few pages and see what you think. If you like philosophical arguments, law, scientific rambling, and so forth, this may be for you. Otherwise you may just find yourself checking your watch wondering when it will be over.

Oh, and I don't really buy some of the science the author throws out at us about sleep in the first few chapters, but whatever.


Originally posted on

Notes from the playlist: "Till I Collapse" by Eminem

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