Friday, July 12, 2013

Odd and Unique

What is it that makes us unique? The size of our brain? Metacognition? The ability to reason, sympathize, and empathize? In Bernard Beckett's tiny novella, Genesis, he takes a unique approach to exam the heart of that very question. What is it that makes humans so special?

Anax is giving her presentation to the Academy for approval. She has studied, memorized, researched, and she believes she has developed an amazing presentation for the Examiners. While many people tell the story of Adam Ford, her new approach to the topic is what she thinks will gain her acceptance into the Academy. As the catalyst from a tightly controlled island fortress community to what the world has become now, Adam was the one man who changed the world. Arrested for defying orders, but unable to execute him as he became a public sensation and his death would create outrage, Adam was sent to live forever with the professor and his new AI robot, Art. It is this relationship that paved the way for the world Anax lives in, and she can't help but feel a connection to it. 

I still don't know what to really say about this story! Honestly, I really didn't like the story for most of its measly 150 pages, but in the last 5 pages, I felt like I was hit by a freight train! The premise of this little novella is entirely unique. There is no action, no real plot, just the delivery of some type of thesis. This was troubling for me because it meant I never truly connected with or engaged with any characters from the story. I got to know as much about Anax as I did the completely nameless Examiner. She was not even mysterious, just more like a flat secondary character. So you would think Adam was the focus of the story, then, right? You are correct, but, you only see snippits of his life. You don't see anything that will really allow you to connect with Adam on a personal level, either for good or bad. Instead he is just a test subject. Something to be examined and studied. This disjointed account of his life was certainly interesting, but it did not give me the connections I so craved.

Then the last five pages hit. And I can't stop thinking about them! It was delivered so calmly. So carefully, and then BAM. A shot right to the gut. Honestly, this ending made me hold this story in an entirely new light. I can't say I loved it. But I can't stop thinking about it. And the deep implications of this story about humanity, about our willingness to kill and yet our inability to kill, artificial intelligence,  and how technology controls our lives. All of this has been swirling in my brain more with this tiny little novella than I ever had when I took a Science Fiction class in college or throughout all my SF reading since then. Beckett actually thumped me more than all the heavyweights like Asimov and Heinlein. So did I like the story? Nah. It was OK. Not something I would read again for pleasure. Do I think this story deserves a place on my shelf and possibly in my classroom? TOTALLY. It was deep and complex with the guise of pure simplicity. It is something that would be excellent to teach in a Literature classroom, and I think that is where it would be best enjoyed. I have a few books that I know I loved because I learned/read them in a classroom setting. It was the guidance of the professor or teacher and the discussions with my classmates that allowed me to fully understand the story. I think this is one of those stories. It might not be great for a summer reading or independent reading project, but to read it in class? Kids are going to feel like I do right now. Bulldozed. 

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