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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Genesis

by
Bernard Beckett


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Genesis



Title: Genesis
Author: Bernard Beckett
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006
Length: 150 pages
Availability: Genesis - US
Genesis - UK (adult cover)
Genesis - UK (YA cover)
Genesis - Canada
Das neue Buch Genesis - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B : good idea, fairly well done

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 9/5/2009 Patrick Ness


  From the Reviews:
  • "Her interview, all five hours of it, makes up the entirety of Genesis, a daring formal experiment that may not always work dramatically, but has a palate-cleansing purity unusual in most young adult fiction. (...) Beckett has written a very different young adult novel -- assured, cool, almost cold -- that will make smart teenagers feel very respected." - Patrick Ness, The Guardian

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Genesis is a post-apocalyptic tale set towards the end of the 21st century, on an island-state called The Republic (that was founded by a man named Plato) that has completely isolated itself from the rest of the world (not that there's apparently much left of that). The 'Last War' began in 2050, and by sealing itself off The Republic was spared the plagues that decimated the rest of the world. Any outsiders -- ships, planes -- were destroyed before they could come close to the island, and it remains as close to hermetically sealed as is possible. The Republic, meanwhile, was built up along to Platonic ideals: yes, The Republic became a fairly accurate modern-day version of classical philosopher Plato's very own, with children raised communally and apart from their parents, etc. etc.
       The novel is set a few decades after The Republic's founding, and revolves entirely around the (female) Anaximander's four-hour examination as she hopes to become a member of The Academy, the highest institution in The Republic. She was permitted to choose the subject she would be examined on, and she chose 'The life and times of Adam Forde'. Most of the novel consists of the examination itself, as she describes the significant episodes in Forde's life, presents holographic recreations of scenes from his life -- and responds to the examiners' questions.
       Forde is an important figure because as a young border-guard he did the unthinkable, going against orders and rescuing a young woman drifting towards the island, at the cost of numerous lives. But Genesis isn't the story of a young rebel, or a romance. The saved girl hardly figures in the story. What's significant is the punishment that they find or Forde: unable to execute him because the trial didn't go exactly as hoped for he was incarcerated -- but not alone.
       Artificial intelligence had long been seen as a potential way to avoid social problems in The Republic, by creating beings capable of doing most of the simple labor. Unfortunately, at a certain stage of development the machines proved unstable, and after a rampage by one showpiece it was difficult to proceed with the necessary research. The theory was that the machines needed continuous additional human stimulation to continue to advance and learn, but it was deemed unthinkable to subject citizens to the possible threat they posed. Forde's situation, however, made him an ideal candidate, and so he became prototype 'Art''s "full-time companion in a secure and controlled experiment".
       Anaximander recounts much of their interaction, which amounts to a sort of Turing test, the machine/computer Art trying to convince Forde that he, too, has a consciousness and is a real thinking being. Forde isn't very enthusiastic at first, but succumbs eventually; much of their back and forth is, of course, about what it means to think and to exist, and Beckett covers all the usual bases here, in fairly entertaining fashion.
       Of course, despite apparently controlled environments, thinking beings -- humans or machines -- have a tendency to ultimately ... think outside the box(es). The thought-experiment, of putting Art and Forde together, did not work out in the way the island's authorities had hoped, and Anaximander tries to show and explain why.
       All of this is fairly fun and occasionally thought-provoking, but fortunately Beckett's story has an additional layer, with Anaximander in for a surprise of her own. Not everything, it turns out, is as it seems. Indeed, basic assumptions turn out to be flawed, making for a satisfying twist and resolution.
       Genesis is an interesting take on artificial intelligence and the philosophical issues it raises -- as well as a few ethical questions. Beckett's choice of ancient-Greek tie-ins (Anaximander also has a ... mentor named Pericles) are a bit of a distraction, in part also because he does not seem fully committed to the connection, but on the whole the ideas and foundations are very good. Somewhat disappointingly, the examination itself -- and the book is built around the examination -- isn't entirely convincing; in part this is also because Beckett has to stuff all the basics (the history of The Republic, etc.) into it, which bogs things down too often . Still, the feel of the examination being much like a trial (hmmm ...), and the back and forth between Art and Forde much like a dialogue by Plato has some appeal.
       The basic idea behind Genesis, and the very clever (if not entirely unexpected) twist that brings it to a close, make for a book that leaves a satisfying impression and memory -- even as the story-telling itself isn't quite so successful.

       Note: Originally published as a children's/young adult title in New Zealand, Genesis is apparently being presented as an adult title in the US; the UK publisher is trying to have it both ways by releasing it both in adult and YA versions (i.e. with different book-covers). There's nothing childish about the book, but it is relatively simple sci-fi, and is certainly accessible to younger readers -- and probably far more satisfying to them. Nevertheless, it is also enjoyable for mature audiences. It succeeds far more as a novel of ideas than for any literary value (although the presentation -- mainly in dialogue -- is intriguing enough), and the ideas dealt with here should be of interest to readers of all ages.

- M.A.Orthofer, 7 June 2009

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Links:

Genesis: Reviews: Bernard Beckett: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       New Zealand author Bernard Beckett was born in 1967.

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© 2009 the complete review

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