Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Genesis

Genesis

Bernard Beckett
Fiction
For ages 14 and up
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010   ISBN: 978-0547335926

For three years Anax has studied with her tutor to prepare for this day. Now she has five hours to prove to the Examiners that they should admit her into the Academy. Anax is a student of history and for her chosen subject she has decided to study, in detail, “the life and times of Adam Forde,” who was born in 2058, seven years after Plato’s Republic was formed. Anax knows her subject well and is ready to talk about Adam’s life, so she is a little floored when the Examiners ask her to explain why the Republic was formed in the first place. Anax did not study this period in detail but she rallies and starts speaking.

Anax describes how, in the late 2030’s, the situation on the world stage was rife with fundamentalism, a looming environmental disaster, and conflict. People were frightened and uncertain of what the future held for them. The situation only got worse, and one man, Plato, decided that it was time to make some plans. He moved his considerable assets to a group of islands at the bottom of the world, and when the Last War broke out he and his colleagues already owned most of the island economy. As war raged in distant lands, work was began to protect the islands from potential danger, and less than a year after war was declared The Great Sea Fence of the Republic was complete.

As war and disease laid waste to the world beyond the fence, Plato and his followers convinced the frightened island people that it was in their best interest to “serve the state above themselves.” Men and women were kept separate, children were taken from their mothers after birth, and education and job placement was tightly controlled. Citizens were given a place in the society and they were expected to accept their placement without question, and follow the many rules laid down by their leaders. These rules were a necessity because the people had to be “focused on a common threat, a shared enemy.” With war and disease threatening their very existence they could not afford to think of themselves.

By the time Adam Forde was a young man, working as a sentry in one of the watchtowers, the citizens of the Republic were beginning to feel discontented with their lives. Contact with the outside world had ceased long ago and people no longer felt threatened. They wanted to raise their own children, and choose their own partners and paths in life. Adam had a pattern of breaking the rules and one day, he did something unthinkable. Instead of killing a refugee whose small boat approached the Great Sea Fence (which was the policy in every instance), he saved her life. He even killed another sentry to do this. His conscious would not allow him to kill a half dead, helpless girl.

Knowing full well that the citizens were no longer comfortable blindly following their leaders, the establishment had to be careful how they dealt with Adam. His actions were treasonous but if he was executed a revolution could break out. Instead, Adam’s punishment was to spend time with a robot, to teach the robot what it was to be human. The leaders hoped that if robots were given the less desirable manual jobs, that the level of discontent in the population would fall and The Republic would continue to thrive.

Adam could barely tolerate the robot, and their association was contentious to say the least. Adam insisted that the robot was just a machine, while the robot argued that it was more than that. Trapped in each other’s company, the two very different personalities tried to coexist. What none of them expected was that Adam was going to pass on something to the robot that would end up, many years later, impacting young Anax.

Mostly presented in a series of dialogues, this extraordinary book presents philosophical ideas in a fresh and altogether unexpected way. We are taken into a future where, to our knowledge, only one human society remains, a society that is strictly controlled for the good of all. Over time the controls seem less and less necessary and a hunger for change starts to build in the society. As we read we can sense that something momentous lies ahead in the story, but we are still not prepared when the truth, which has been kept hidden from Anax and therefore from us, finally is revealed.

This book is shocking at times and not for the faint of heart, but it explores ideas that are fundamental, powerful, and universal; ideas that we all need to consider as we watch our world change around us.

 

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