Friday, April 13, 2007

"Beggars In Spain" - the Future is Now

There are books that entertain. There are books that stimulate thoughts and ideas. There are books that challenge perceptions and make demands on their readers.

There are a few books that do all of the above and more, books such as "Beggars In Spain" by Nancy Kress. But why review a book that was published in 1994? Perhaps because I just now read it. Perhaps more to the point, the book opens in the near future, which is now upon us -- the opening of the book is set in 2008.

When it was first published as a novella in 1991, it was about a future earth, shaped by advances in genetic science. At that time, real parents were already purchasing genetic modifications for their real children: modest increases in height, intelligence, and other traits seen as desirable. What genetic modifications have been discovered and marketed in the sixteen years since then?

Although books and news articles on human genetic enhancements are scarce, it is because doctors fear losing their medical license, and parents fear condemnation, not because it is isn't being done. It is being done, in this country and elsewhere. Few people are comfortable discussing questions of money, priviledge, ethics, law, and other considerations that Kress unveils in her seminal work. It is happening folks; the future is now.

Nancy creates memorable, unique and believable characters in "Beggers in Spain". It is great science fiction and also a thoughtful scenario of "what if". What if genetic mods created a group of people so different they would seem alien? What if genetic improvements were available only to the children of the wealthy?

I bought "Beggers in Spain" because it was so highly recommended, but when it arrived I wasn't sure I would like reading it, and it sat on the shelf for a few weeks. It is one of my favorite books now, and I'm glad I didn't miss it. I think it is classic Science Fiction, and the only caveat I would give would be - "Read it while it is still - fiction!"

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