Bernard Beckett's Genesis
Children's book review by Tracey Fortkamp
Dystopian novel: Think Plato's Republic
“... from our vantage point it is now clear that the only thing the population had to fear was fear itself.”
I love a good dystopian novel. The idea of a society where people lead dehumanizing, often fearful lives, and the question of whether they can overcome their oppressors – I just can’t get enough. Maybe it is the creativity the authors have in imagining these societies that has me on the edge of my seat, or maybe it is that I often see my own society mirrored in these books and I just need to know how the future ends up. Whatever the reason, I am constantly hunting for a great dystopian story and Genesis by Bernard Beckett does not disappoint.
Review: Genesis by Bernard Beckett
Genesis is set in a post-apocalyptic, plague ridden world. In the midst of deadly climate change, massive dust storms, rampant fear and fundamentalism, a visionary man, “the new Plato,” had the forethought to create an island society (think Plato’s Republic), closed off from the rest of the world by a great sea fence. So, while plague and violence decimates the human population outside the fence, the Republic's philosopher-dominated society flourishes under the motto "forward towards the past."
Anaximander (Anax) has grown up in this secluded society and has been invited to attend the Academy. The Academy consists of the most elite class of philosophers and plays an influential role in the lives of all living on the island Republic. Anax is thrilled to be asked to join, but she must pass an exhaustive four-hour auditory entrance exam based on her area of expertise. She has chosen the life of the Republic’s long-dead hero Adam Forde, a controversial subject.
Divided into four sections, Genesis focuses on each hour of Anax’s exam. As the exam progresses, a great deal about the history of the Republic is revealed - information that is integral to understanding the significance of Adam Forde’s life and ultimately the fate of Anax. She explains how, beginning in 2030, attempts at genetic engineering created fear throughout the world. The United States had also declared war on the Middle East in an attempt to spread democracy and China’s continued rise in power led to widespread panic that global conflict was imminent. In addition, in the midst of this social and economic turmoil, a plague was spreading throughout the world. The island Republic was formed to isolate its citizens from outside contact and the downfall of society. And while all living on the island were safe from the plague, they certainly were not free.
Anax explains that Adam Forde grew up in this early time of the Republic and he was not known for following the rules. His greatest betrayal to the Republic came when he was assigned to security duty for the island. This meant he was responsible for recognizing outside threats to the islands’ safety and eliminating them – shooting down planes, blowing up boats, or destroying possible infiltrators. One day, during his security duty, Adam spots a girl in a small boat. He is supposed to “take care of her,” but in an act of compassion, he rescues her and protects her against assassination.
For his traitorous act against the Republic, Adam is sentenced to imprisonment that includes interacting with an experiment involving advanced artificial intelligence, developed by a respected leader of the Republic, Philosopher William. William had hoped for his android’s (Art) education to be furthered after his death, and knowing that it is his only opportunity to avoid execution, Adam reluctantly begins his interaction with Art. Anax gives a detailed account of the conversations between Adam and Art using holographic reenactments that focus on Adam’s resistance to developing a relationship with Art because he believes androids cannot live among humans.
During this period of imprisonment, Adam and Art have deep philosophical debates about various topics including the virtues of men and machines, the nature of consciousness, and what gives life meaning. In one such conversation Adam explains to Art,
“You mock me for the shortness of my life span, but it is this very fear of dying which breathes life into me. I am the thinker who thinks of thought. I am curiosity, I am reason, I am love, and I am hatred. I am indifference. I am the son of a father, who in turn was a father’s son. I am the reason my mother laughed and the reason my mother cried. I am wonder and I am wondrous. Yes, the world may push your buttons as it passes through your circuitry. But the world does not pass through me. It lingers. I am in it and it is in me. I am the means by which the universe has come to know itself. I am the thing no machine can ever make. I am meaning.”
Anax is greatly influenced by observing these encounters and develops a greater understanding and appreciation for Adam’s actions against the Republic, as well as the true extent of Art’s intelligence and being. At the end of Anax’s exam, the examiners reveal to her a never before released hologram that shows Art using free will to self-replicate and, more disturbingly, kill a conscious being - Adam. Not only is Anax shocked at Art’s betrayal of Adam, but the example foreshadows her own end.
Genesis, while philosophical in nature, is also completely thrilling and totally original. Anax’s experience leads us to examine current unresolved questions raised by science, technology and philosophy, such as “What is consciousness?” and “What truly makes us human?” Beckett is a gifted storyteller who has given us a novel that not only sparks intellect and imagination, but will keep you on the edge of your seat, and make you gasp at the book’s dramatic and shocking conclusion.
Read more of Tracey's reviews.
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