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[personal profile] seekingferret posted about Beggars in Spain, which I hadn't reread for just about forever, and I went and found our copy the other day and narfed it up. The novel (which is what we own) is basically the novella with several other parts tacked on. Beggars in Spain is nominally about a bioengineered trait to go without sleep (the "Sleepless"), which creates a superclass of those people, who then have to deal with bigotry and fear from the rest of the populace (the "beggars"). One of the tacked-on parts deals with the further-bioengineered SuperSleepless, who are much more intelligent than the Sleepless, and how the Sleepless deal with that.

I had some interesting reactions to this reread, most of which weren't actually relevant to the philosophical questions being asked in the book.


seekingferret described the first part as "Howard Roark has a baby," and even with that in my head, and understanding perfectly what he meant rationally, I couldn't really viscerally see the connection, because, well, Ayn Rand actually does have some pieces of the writing craft that she performs relatively well, but three-dimensional characters are not one of them. Roark himself is so one-dimensional as to code to me as alien on my last reread. And Roger Camden, even in the brief thumbnail sketch we get of him, and even though we only ever see him through other characters' eyes, is a three-dimensional character. He would like to be Howard Roark, he is (basically) an Objectivist, but he's not an alien! He hurts other people, they hurt him (if somewhat less), he is bewildered by other people, he is disappointed by other people asserting their own individuality, he gets old and frail. (Camden is, in fact, more like Ayn Rand than he is like Roark, though perhaps without the really weird crotchety bits.)

One thing that bothered me a lot on this reread that I inexplicably never reacted to before is that Roger Camden keeps Leisha away from the other Sleepless until she asks. That is, fifteen years she is kept away from others like her. That's... just... cruel, is what it is. I suppose his rationale was to mold her in his own image... ugh. UGH. I am clearly superimposing my own experiences with living in a small town without any comparable peers until I was 12 and went to nerd camp, at which point I met people who actually liked books and wanted to talk about them! who liked to do math! and I was like "oh WHOA this is AMAZING." Although I'd like to stress that my parents had no idea that this was something I wanted, and that I don't blame them at all -- but I do very much blame Camden, who should super have known better. (I don't even get any sense that Leisha had any Sleeper friends, which... didn't Camden have any Objectivist buddies with high-achieving kids??)

I did feel sometimes like emotional reactions were off in the novella in general. Leisha reacted to being told she was basically going to be immortal by being super happy about it? Um. She's not a child, she knows all the problems that go with that: all your loved ones dying before you being a big one. She's coming back from a funeral, for heaven's sake.

And let's face it, I found the idea that people would stop making Sleepless babies, that they'd enact legislation to stop making them, rather charmingly naive. I have a whole twenty years of 99%/1% rhetoric under my belt that Kress didn't have at the time, but still... if there were bioengineering that could be done to make one's child better, faster, more intelligent, more successful, happier, and healthier, with the cost being that you would have to hire a nighttime nanny to watch the kid while you slept? If anything people would agitate to have it covered under health care, or something. Meanwhile the people with money and power would make all their kids Sleepless, and there would just be more and more of them. (To be fair, I think she saw that later on, and that's the sort of society we see in the later parts of this book and the sequels, even if by a different mechanism because she'd already written herself into a corner in the novella by saying that there weren't really more Sleepless being created.)

Also, it drove home to me how US-centric the novella is. Again, with twenty years hindsight, it's crazy to think the other world powers won't be all over Sleepless and SuperSleepless. Where is that discussion? This is another thing where I think she realized she'd made a mistake in the novella and tried to at least give some lip service to it in the novel (there's a little more discussion of it in the later parts), but she'd really kind of written herself into a corner in the novella.

I also had a vague sense of dissatisfaction with the novella, because I felt like it wanted one of its major themes to be about family and sisters and friends and community and found families, and it kind of wasn't -- because all the relationships, but principally the relationship between Leisha and Alice, the one that the entire novella hangs on, was really glossed over. I never got the sense that there was a real relationship there. I mean, my sister and I: you couldn't condense our relationship down to a handful of Important Moments, because it's all the times in between the Important Moments that form our relationship. It's the fights we had about my bossing her around and the french fries I divided exactly halfway down the middle and the way I broke my mom's instructions not to say anything to her about a particular family issue and the times we sang duets at the top of our lungs on road trips that made our relationship what it is today.

Interestingly, I got that feeling of relationships much more strongly from the last part of the novel, about the SuperSleepless and Miranda Sharifi. I felt like the relationships between the SuperSleepless are handled much better -- we see Miranda and Tony thinking about things together, we see Miranda and Joan fighting (this is, of course, extremely thematically and plot-relevant, but it's not a Signposted Important Moment for Miranda the way Leisha going to college and Alice getting pregnant is for Leisha), we see Miranda figuring out sex. I believed in Miranda and Tony as siblings; I believed in the Supers as a community, in a way I just didn't believe in Leisha and Alice. I almost feel like Kress wrote this part because she was unhappy with how it was done in the novella, because this works so much better in that respect.

That being said, I think that thematically the novella stands alone rather better than the novel as a whole. I dunno. As I said to seekingferret, Leisha's epiphany that human life is an ecology rather than a series of one-sided contracts is one that has resonated with me and stuck with me over the years. And the secondary epiphany that Hey Everything Is Interconnected is really, well, I kinda think of it as a subset of the "ecology" argument.

(From K)

Date: 2014-10-05 10:57 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
As a result of this post, I've discovered that our library will let me borrow books online instantaneously, which could be a problem.

Anyway, very good, with a bit of indigestion. It's hard not to love the "genius kids grow up misunderstood and take over the world" narrative. Plus the exploration of various political and biological side effects of technical innovation, which always sucks me in. I do think that Yagaiism is a straw man philosophy which is trivial to take down and hard to believe the characters take seriously in its simplest form. (Of course, that's roughly how I feel about Rand as well, except that, as you say, her characters are sufficiently one-dimensional that they have the same dimensionality as her philosophy, and consequently things fit tightly.)

I suppose that Yagaiism serves the same purpose as largely confining sleeplessness to the United States, in that it keeps the narrative elegant and streamlined.

Re: (From K)

Date: 2014-10-07 10:11 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I never tried too hard to find e-books through the library before, and had generally assumed that nothing particularly useful or desirable would actually be available. But this time, when I looked up the book in the catalog, it promptly asked me if I wanted to borrow the e-book. I read it in my browser, with no need to download any software or plugins, but apparently I could have read it on my kindle as well (which I probably should have -- reading on my laptop screen for several hours is a dumb choice).

I don't worry too much about being classified Sleepless rather than Supersleepless. I always figured I would never have made it into battle school either.

I have the impression that lots of SF authors reach a point in the development of their technical ideas where they have to portray something like Miri's thinking or Drew's dreaming (the Mule from Foundation?), and I've mostly learned to roll with it as a reader. Now that you point it out, I'd agree that Miri's thinking was well-finessed, but it didn't pop out at me when I read it.

I tend to poke holes in Libertarianism rather than Objectivism myself (hello mass vaccination and herd immunity, and then we can start on other public goods, and then I will probably get more grouchy and political than is the social norm around here...)

But I guess it bugs me that, on the one hand Kress presented holes in Objectivism, and on the other hand Madam Genius Lawyer Camden couldn't articulate her objections in any reasonable way until the very end of the book, even though she spends the whole story pushing back on Yagaiist principles through her actions. Come on. A highly ethical Harvard Law Review editor who doesn't even consider Rawls? Particularly given that some children born to Sleepless turned out to be Sleepers despite the dominant gene?

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