Book Review: Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
A little disclaimer before I get started here: I met Nancy Kress for the first time last weekend at the PNWA Conference, and moderated a session she gave called ‘Writing Successful Science Fiction and Fantasy’. I read this book as part of my prep for the conference. Nancy is a wonderful person to talk to, and gave a fantastic seminar. But I don’t think this fact changes my review at all.
Kress originally wrote Beggars in Spain as a novella in 1991. They say it was pretty good in novella form. It won the Hugo and the Nebula awards that year. Not bad at all. In 1993 she released an extended version as a 3 book series. The first (this book) was also nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula for novels (but did not win).
I had heard of Beggars in Spain long before I knew I was going to moderate a session with Nancy. In fact, I’d had Beggars in Spain on my Amazon Wish List for quite a while. I think I saw it recommended on a tech blog I used to read. You know when the nerds like a book, it’s probably pretty good science fiction.
In the not so distant future, prospective parents are able to tailor their children’s genetic traits through invitro-fertilization so they can be more beautiful or more athletic or more healthy. But one man decides his children will be better off if they never have to sleep. The advantages of never being tired, and never having to sleep, are endless. The children learn faster, they can train faster and they soon out-distance their peers. But differences like this are noticed, and like many differences, they are feared. The Sleepless, as they are called, are discriminated against because they are more than human. And that creates all sorts of political, economic and sociological issues, for both the Sleepless and the Sleepers.
The story is quite good, though I found I really didn’t like many of the characters. There were few that were written to be likeable on either side of the conflict, which was a little disconcerting at times, but perhaps a little more realistic than the typical hero versus monster storyline. I often felt sorry for the characters, but there were few I would have liked to hang out with.
There is definitely parallel between the factions in the story and modern day events in the USA. I pointed this out to Nancy when I was talking with her, and I had to laugh because who I thought she had predicted, wasn’t who she was taking a shot at. I don’t want to spoil it for everyone, so I won’t go any further, but if you want know, feel free to ask, after you’ve read the book.
I’ve often wanted to write and to put a solid theme behind the story as Kress does in Beggars. I haven’t yet been able to pull it off. That kind of writing takes things to a new level for me. I may unintentionally do it from time to time, but my intentional efforts seem far too contrived. It’s definitely a goal of mine, though.
Overall, Beggars in Spain is an excellent book, and I will definitely be reading more of Kress’ work.