Beggars and Choosers

Beggars and Choosers

by Nancy Kress

In Beggars and Choosers, Kress returns to the same future world created in her earlier work, an America strangely altered by genetic modifications.

The Sleep, radically altered humans, have withdrawn from the rest of the race to an island retreat, from which they periodically release dazzling scientific advances.

  • Series: Sleepless
  • Language: English
  • Category: Science Fiction
  • Rating: 3.85
  • Pages: 377
  • Publish Date: February 15th 1996 by Tor Books
  • Isbn10: 0812550102
  • Isbn13: 9780812550108

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My golden standard when it comes to stories of genetic manipulation and its effects on society is Gattaca. Kress very visibly passes the reins on to the next generation, and we get to see inside the heads of Diana, a donkey; Drew Arlen, the Lucid Dreamer and Miranda's lover; and Billy Washington, an old Liver who vaguely remembers what life was like back before such distinctions became meaningful. So not only is Beggars and Choosers a deep science-fiction novel about the repercussions of genetic engineering, but it is also a very good story. The Supers, under Miranda's guidance, are "up to something." Billy Washington lives in East Oleanta, a small community in New York State. At first it seems like a plot by the Supers to force the Livers to take responsibility for their own wellbeing rather than relying only on the donkeys they vote into office. Kress hasn't just written a book about the effects of genetic engineering on the wider society. Beggars and Choosers is an intensely personal story. He begins to wake up to the fact that not all is right with the donkey/Liver dynamic, especially when he encounters the enigmatic Miranda and her laboratory hideaway, stylized "Eden." Billy is driven almost wholly by concern for Angie and her daughter, Lizzie, who is quite intelligent for a Liver. As tensions in the community run high, Billy risks his life for them, finally breaking out of the traditional Liver mould to take up the mantle of, essentially, a hero: There was a confusion in the crowd. And Drew is resurrecting and reinforcing this aspect of human nature, releasing it from wherever society's emphasis on social and genetic engineering has banished it. Gradually, Diana herself shifts from a rather listless donkey who doesn't quite know what she wants in her life to a convicted person who has a much better appreciation of how Livers live and how fragile American society has become. Central to the climax is the question of whether the Supers have the right to decide for all humanity whether such a dramatic change is "right." They do not force it upon humanity in the sense that they release a pathogen, but they distribute vials that cause the transformationand, as far as Kress tells it, there are no side effects, no fatalities for the change. Although already tragic, the coda to Beggars and Choosers provides a pithy, ringing note to end both their story and the novel as a whole: Oh, Miranda I'm sorry. It seems like Drew eventually decides that the Supers are so different they cannot be considered human; their thought processes and ethics are just alien. Beggars and Choosers continues this, but its philosophy is now accompanied by a great story and believable characters. As far as such definitions go, however, Beggars and Choosers must meet them, for it depicts not necessarily what our society will be or even what it could be but some of the moral and social dilemmas we will face as we push science and technology faster and more furiously than ever before.

I half expected something quite different, mostly because Beggars in Spain started as a novella (first third of the book), then expanded to a novel, then expanded to a trilogy. Right now in the hours after finishing it, I think I enjoyed this more than Beggars in Spain. This is always the tricky thing with second-in-a-series: when the author chooses to do something so different than the beloved first book, she risks alienating folks that wanted more of the same.

Much like Beggars in Spain, Beggars and Choosers continues to reveal the science-fiction changes of a potential future history, where a genetically-created group of humans have appeared who are definitely superior to the baseline. Though these Sleepless (or at least their descendants, the Supers) are still critically important to this new book, their story takes a bit of a back seat to another plot thread from the original book: the division of baseline humanity into workers and freeloading "livers". In many ways, Beggars and Choosers feels like a better polished book than its predecessor, in large part because it was actually conceived of as a novel.

The following review has spoilers for Beggars in Spain, the first book in the Sleepless Trilogy. Its worth noting that Beggars and Choosers reads very differently than Beggars in Spain, the latter which took place over several decades and was written from a third person unlimited perspective. Billy proved to be probably the best person in the book, Dianas struggles were easy to connect with, and it was nice to finally see what makes Drew tick, given he wasnt the most likable person in Beggars in Spain. Im quite happy that I ended up picking up Beggars and Choosers, the sequel to Beggars in Spain, and plan on finishing off the trilogy by reading the final book, Beggars Ride.

But I have major problems with the premise, and in this way, much of the book's ideology that follows from it. And yet, in the novel, the sleepless are quite stupid in many ways - e.g. failure to understand basic economics.

El problema de este libro es que por partes se hace aburrido y en cambio en otras partes se acelera tanto que no terminas de hilar bien lo que pasa y a mi me ha resultado, sobre todo la parte final, algo confusa. Gasta mucho tiempo al principio en la temática social Vividores/ Auxiliares y la parte, para mi gusto, más atractiva de las innovaciones tecnológicas ocurren muy aceleradas.

She is a regular at Clarion writing workshops and at The Writers Center in Bethesda, Maryland.