Monday, August 24, 2009

Madam, I'm Adam

This appeared in Saturday's DNA.

Bernard Beckett

We’re well into the third millennium of recorded history. The world has shrunk into an island-state called the Republic, whose inhabitants live in peace and harmony. This Republic is controlled by a shadowy group, the Academy, with complete responsibility for its perpetuation. Those seeking to join the Academy have to undergo a gruelling four-hour long interview – and it is for such an interview that Anaximander, a bright young girl, arrives. This is the world and the opening of Bernard Beckett’s young adult novel, Genesis.

The entire novel revolves around the interview, with Anaximander recounting, for her interviewers’ benefit, the life of the charismatic, rebellious Adam Forde, who played a seminal role in the early days of the Republic. Adam’s life and actions are a matter of public record; yet, could there be parts that are open to interpretation?

The narrative, then, moves back and forth between the girl’s statements and feelings during the interview, and the man’s progress from being a border guard to someone who brushes up against the apparatus of the state and comes to terms with the power of artificial intelligence.

Beckett’s prose is crisp and economical; yet, because this is a novel packed with many ideas and arguments about human consciousness, the narrative tends to get drowned in argument. Moments of drama are followed by pages of debate, and though the discussions are relevant to the novel, they do tend to overpower it. (Which is also why a narrative strand such as Adam’s saving of a woman called – inevitably – Eve is left unexplored.) There’s more than one twist to this tale, however, including one right at the end, which somewhat mitigates this criticism.

However deftly handled, Genesis doesn’t quite make the cut in terms of innovative science fiction. Beckett’s heart is more in the explication of ideas relating to memes, the interplay between the animate and the inanimate and what makes us distinctive as a species, among other things. Even so, the novel should provide nutritious food for thought for those weaned on a steady diet of Terminator movies.

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