07 February 2008

Writing on Reading: Beggars in Spain

Nancy Kress is an incredibly accomplished science fiction writer. She's won three Nebulas and a Hugo for her work, and she's a instructor at Clarion. The novel Beggars in Spain is based on Kress's novella of the same name that won the Hugo.

Overall, I thought Beggars in Spain was a good read. It is a classic example of an author taking a scientific "what if" and running with it. In this case, the "what if" is "what if we used genetic engineering to modify some humans so that they didn't have to sleep?" At first blush, it does not sound like a big deal, but when no need for sleep results in high intelligence and super longevity, it gets interesting. Kress does a great job with thematic and philosophical explorations of prejudice, community, and ambition. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy near future sci fi.

I do have (as usual) have a few criticisms. First, the book was published in 1993 (the novella in 1991), and it opens in the year 2008. I'm afraid that Kress didn't get it right in terms of how much genetic science (among other things) would develop. (If fact, there's one point where smoking is referred to as an "archaic" habit. If only we'd come that far!). The inaccurate depiction of 2008 pulled me out of the story at the beginning, but time moves quickly in the book so that the problem of catching up with the present does not last long. 

My other criticism is a bit harder to put a finger on. At various points in the book, I felt the author ticking off points in her outline. For some reason, the overall structure  felt over planned, non-organic, perhaps forced. I have no idea if Kress writes by outline or is a pantzer, but this book at least felt to me like it was outlined. (There are lots of Kress interviews on the web. If someone wants to earn bonus points, maybe they can find out and report back on the outline/pantzer issue). I'm really not sure how this issue could be addressed. Any ideas?

1 comment:

lesleylsmith said...

You seem kind of negative, D! :(
I can't believe you're criticizing her for not predicting 2008 accurately enough! :)
The novella was wonderful, really good. I must admit the novel was not quite as good in my mind; I guess I felt like she was s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g out the excellent novella. Still, I would be proud to publish anything approaching either version. :)