Sleepless Trilogy – Book List
In the near future, genetic engineering produces the Sleepless. As the name implies, these humans never need to sleep—and, as a result, they develop cognitive abilities far beyond those of Sleepers. Ostracized by ordinary society, the Sleepless withdraw first to a Sanctuary on the Earth, and then to an orbiting station of the same name. The first and original Sleepless, Leisha Camden, is troubled by this obvious division between the two branches of humanity, and she seeks to reconcile them.
Nancy Kress explores the ramifications of being able to change not just society but our species as a whole. As the trilogy progresses, the alterations become larger, pushing us beyond humanity and into the realm of posthumanism. We literally have the ability to control our evolution now, something that has never before happened in the history of life on Earth. It's a sobering thought.
- Hardcover, 304 pages
- Tor, 1996
Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.
Uh-oh. Jennifer Sharifi is back. This can't be good for the story, and last time she was the antagonist, it wasn't good for the book either.
I'll say this about Nancy Kress: she has a way of surprising me. I did not expect her to kill off Leisha Camden so abruptly in Beggars and Choosers. The stunning events that happen in Beggars Ride, some of which are the result of Jennifer's decisions, were no less shocking. For most of the book, I kept thinking, "That didn't happen. That could not have happened. This must be some kind of trick; there will be a twist at the end, a revelation that everything is all right." But there was no twist, no trick. Kress played it straight for the entire book, delivering in this way a fitting conclusion to her genetic narrative of strife, interdependence, and family conflicts.
The Jennifer Sharifi of Beggars Ride is much different from the Jennifer of Beggars in Spain, whom I likened to a moustache-twirlng villain. Twenty-seven years in prison have mellowed Jennifer, or maybe Kress has just decided to give us a more intimate look beyond Jennifer's careful composure. Whatever the case, we actually get glimpses at Jennifer's feelings instead of just narration about how careful and calculating her mind is. We get to watch her anguish over some of the hard choices she makes, choices she feels are necessary to protect the Sleepless, even if they have a high cost for her personally. There is a vulnerability to Jennifer present that I had never seen before, and that made her so much more compelling.
Beggars Ride follows up on what has become of humanity after Miranda Sharifi and the SuperSleepless rained Change syringes down on the world at the end of Beggars and Choosers. Injection with a syringe furnishes a human body with Cell Cleaner, a nanotechnology that eliminates foreign bacteria and viruses and repairs or destroys damaged cells. It also modifies the human body to make humans able to absorb nutrients from soil or any other organic material through micro-tubules extending up between skin cells. (Kress calls this "autotrophic," but I'm not sure this is strictly correct, since as I understand it, autotrophs absorb inorganic compounds. But it's been a while since I studied chemistry.) These changes are not hereditary, and with Change syringes in scarce supply, more and more children are being born only to grow up unChanged. Various groups, from religious cults to doctors associations, regularly beam messages to the SuperSleepless retreat on the moon, pleading for more Change syringes. And, oh yes, immortality. Because if you give a mouse a cookie….
Beggars in Spain was all about the division between Sleepless and Sleepers, with the latter worried that the former would replace them as a more successful, more productive, "superior" version of humanity. So the Sleepers pushed the Sleepless away, and Beggars and Choosers looks at what has become of Sleeper society since then. Now, in Beggars Ride, Kress reveals that, far from gaining separation and independence from the Sleepless, Sleeper society is now totally dependent on them for more Change syringes. The irony that Miranda's gift to humanity did not, as she so joyously claimed at the end of Beggars and Choosers, make humanity free, is not lost on the reader, or on Miranda herself, for that matter. For all of her technological and neurological expertise, Miranda failed to account for the sociological factors that surrounded her gift of the Change syringes. The Liver/donkey dichotomy Kress depicts in Beggars and Choosers is still present in Beggars Ride, just altered. The key to understanding the present state of the society is to realize something that, while probably obvious in the previous book, was not made explicit until now: everyone has pretty much given up. No one is interested in minding the store, not the donkeys, and certainly not the Livers.
Theoretically, the Livers, who vastly outnumber the donkeys, are supposed to give votes in exchange for material goods and promised services. In return, the donkeys gain power and prestige. The Livers are raised to believe that they are privileged not to work, that education is a chore, and all they should be doing is racing scooters and having sex and complaining when the soy food dispenser breaks. The Change syringes upset this balance, but the separation between the two classes remains: donkeys exist in private, fortified enclaves in the shells of the former great cities of the United States; Livers roam across the country in "tribes," attempting to fend for themselves. And the donkeys could not care less about the Liver population any more, although the legal and electoral relationship between the two classes still remains. If the Livers have been encouraged to engage in lives of epic hedonism, then the donkey enclaves, thanks to the Change syringes, have shifted into a haughty Epicureanism. They have lost all interest in governance or leadership, and those donkeys who do run for office do so pretty much solely for the power those positions bring. Mostly, the donkeys spend their time looking for new thrills and new experiences, because the Cell Cleaner destroys mood-enhancing drugs too quickly to make them effective.
We see this happening through the eyes of Jackson Aranow, a naive donkey doctor, and his sister, Theresa. Jackson is your typical disaffected donkey; he doesn't really care about managing the business he part-owns, nor is his work as a doctor very stimulating or challenging now that Cell Cleaner takes care of almost every ailment. Yet Jackson has not quite succumbed to the nihilistic malaise slowly pervading donkey society; he merely recognizes its approach in the form of his smoking hot ex-wife, Cazie. Cazie is forceful, even domineering at times, but also a little on the crazy side; there is one memorable scene where she drags Jackson up to a party on another floor of his apartment building. At the party, everyone is lying around in the mud, feeding together (sometimes very together, if you catch my drift). And they are taking terms throwing knives at each other; protected by Y-shielding, the targets are in no real danger. The knives are laced with one of two compounds: one that induces pleasure by directly stimulating the brain, and another that induces pain. One doesn't know what one will get, and that's the thrill that Cazie and others who have been dulled by the cleanliness of Cell Cleaner seek.
Jackson flees from that kind of party, a little disgusted and even vaguely ashamed. This scene sticks in my mind because I think it is a turning point in his relationship with Lizzie, Vicki, and the Liver tribe. Cazie's behaviour makes Jackson realize that the donkey way of life is fast becoming more of a sham than any pretensions to aristocracy that the Livers previously had. He can no longer pretend to be ignorant or apathetic, because if he does, then he will soon live in a society he cannot abide. So he cautiously starts to reach out to the only thing he knows is different, the only people who look like they are willing to change—because, aside from engineering a product that can work around Cell Cleaner's effectiveness, the donkeys don't really want to change. They're happy with the status quo, and that will kill them. As Vicki observes, no one wants to take responsibility for what has happened since the Change began; everyone blames Miranda for not continuing to provide Change syringes.
So human society has entered a crisis of faith, a literal one, for some people. Miranda Sharifi took the world by storm by dropping Change syringes, and now she and the SuperSleepless have sequestered themselves again. Kress includes interludes consisting of short messages sent to the SuperSleepless colony on the moon, beseeching Miranda to send more Change syringes. But there is never an answer (for a very good reason, though I won't spoil it here), and we get the impression that, thematically, there can't be an answer. The SuperSleepless have run into the classic god paradox: if you try to do too much, you end up making people dependent on you. This is not necessarily a comment about human nature but rather a consequence of herd mentality: societies prefer the familiar and look to where they know help can be found. And when that help isn't forthcoming, then they turn to insults, wondering why the Miranda has "abandoned" them to let their children suffer.
It's this combination of social change with biological, technologically-induced causes that makes Nancy Kress' books so riveting. She takes a miraculous invention like the Cell Cleaner and then points out that, by fixing "flaws" with our current physiology, it will also deprive us of things we consider good. Kress demonstrates something about science fiction that makes it so compelling for me: every great invention, every new piece of technology, comes with benefits and drawbacks. And we, as a society, seldom understand what the drawbacks are until we have plunged headfirst into reaping the benefits (fossil fuels, anyone?). We are somewhat-clever apes, tinkering with toys that we don't really understand, and sometimes that gets us into trouble. It is a great way to create conflict for a story, exploring all the while a facet of what it means to be human.
This is where Jennifer enters the plot as a villain. So far I've focused on the passive consequences of Cell Cleaner. Jennifer intentionally sets out to pervert our idea of humanity even further, devising a means to alter permanently the paths in one's amygdala. She wants to make people afraid of anything new, reasoning that if she can accomplish this on a wide scale, she will have eliminated any unseen threats to her and the rest of the Sleepless in Sanctuary:
… no one will ever be able to threaten us again, except in those ways we already understand and can counter. We will be in control, if only because there will never again be any unknown devils unleashed against us.
It's totally off-the-rails insane, of course, and other characters make the obvious connection to genocide-through-inaction. Jennifer essentially attempts to engineer stagnation into human society. But she fails, twice over. She allows her disgust for Sleepers motivated by greed to overpower her natural cautiousness. And she fails to realize that life, by definition, resists stagnation. Evolution is change.
And so we come to Theresa Aranow, my favourite character. UnChanged, Theresa's abnormal neurological development has resulted in a mental state quite similar to what Jennifer wants: afraid of the wider world, afraid of change or new experiences. Theresa spends most of her time isolated in the apartment she shares with Jackson, reading and writing about Leisha Camden and collecting quotations from the datanet. Periodically she makes these quixotic attempts to break free from this shell and make some sort of difference. She always meets failure, however, for a variety of reasons: either the experience does not live up to its promise, such as when she visits a convent only to find out they use drugs to "get closer to God"; or, an external force interrupts her, such as when she visits Richard Sharifi's compound in La Solana just as it gets nuked. Theresa is a little bit tragic but also possesses an incredible fortitude that makes her all the more endearing. She shares with Jackson a naivety, but his comes off as annoying or pretentious because it is a wilful ignorance, and casting off that ignorance is Jackson's personal growth in this book. Theresa is naive because she just lacks so much experience, but her personality grows by leaps and bounds.
Through Theresa's thoughts and actions, Kress shapes her final, somewhat optimistic message to us regarding human behaviour, genetics, and neurochemistry. One of the philosophical crucibles of posthumanism is the question of biological determinism: to what extent is our behaviour determined by our bodies, by our brain chemistry? This is central to all of the far-reaching inquiries of the posthumanists, from mind-uploading to immortality. Or, as Kress explains:
A medical solution would of course be simpler, easier, faster. Just take a neuropharm. With the right neuropharm, you could become less fearful, more fearful, more lusty, more hopeful, less angry, more lethargic … anything. But Theresa and her disciples weren't using neuropharms. So the question wasn't, as Jackson had always assumed, how neurochemically driven were humans? The question was, why were they ever driven by anything but neurochemicals? Why—and how—could men and women choose against their own fear, lust, hope, anger, inertia? Because clearly they could choose that. Theresa was doing so, right in front of his eyes. So not—isn't man just a bunch of chemicals? Rather—how could man ever be anything else?
It is easy to become lost in the events of global consequence in Beggars Ride and the larger social commentary at work there. As the above passage demonstrates, however, there is a much deeper level present, one where Kress introduces us to some very intriguing questions about selfhood and behaviour. This is what science fiction does, and my only regret is that it takes until the final book of this trilogy for Kress to achieve this zenith. I didn't, and still don't, like Beggars in Spain. I was worried, in fact, that this series would turn out to be another Clockwork Earth: a very disappointing first book followed by two mediocre sequels. But I had more faith in Nancy Kress, and she did not let me down. Beggars Ride is an excellent work in its own right and a fitting culmination to a series that, while not without flaws and pitfalls, presents a thoughtful look at the social consequences of directing our evolution.
- Paperback, 377 pages
- Tor, 1994
Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.
My golden standard when it comes to stories of genetic manipulation and its effects on society is Gattaca. I've only seen it twice, I think, yet its impact on my consciousness (and conscience) remains clear in my mind. Growing up concurrently with the Human Genome Project and watching the advancements in genetics that are happening in my lifetime, I am wary of what will happen if governments, corporations, and people do not reach a social contract on how we will treat this new capability. Corporations are patenting our genes; insurance companies jump at any chance to discriminate based on a "pre-existing condition;" and it is only a matter of time before athletic organizations must deal with "enhanced" participants. We're nearing that threshold; I can feel it, and I really don't want to see the world become something like that depicted in Gattaca.
Beggars and Choosers doesn't follow exactly the same route as the movie, but it does meet my Gattaca standard. The United States has not quite gone apocalyptic on us yet, but it's getting there. Society has fractured into a 20/80 split of "donkeys" and "Livers." The donkeys do the administrative work, governing, running businesses, building and inventing new technology, etc. The Livers engage in "aristo" activities (including often-deadly scooter races), trading their votes to those donkeys who promise them the best services. In a very Gattaca-esque way, donkey families purchase the best genemods they can for their children. Livers do not engage in genemodding. And in orbit above Earth, the Sleepless still live in Sanctuary, though it did not quite manage to secede. Their SuperSleepless children have returned to Earth but sequestered themselves on a newly-made island, Huevos Verdes. And the trouble has only begun.
This book departs notably from Beggars in Spain. Fortunately, I think most of the changes are for the better. Kress elects to tell the story from the first-person perspective of several narrators. Interestingly, Miranda Sharifi, the SuperSleepless protagonist from the first book, is not one of them—nor is the original protagonist, Leisha Camden, whose role is much reduced. 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. I liked, though not equally, all of these characters and their perspectives. Each of them undergoes experiences that challenge his or her beliefs and leads to a distinctive arc of character development. 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. This is something I couldn't say about Beggars in Spain, and I am pleased to return Nancy Kress to the pedestal she deserves in my personal Authors Hall of Fame.
The Supers, under Miranda's guidance, are "up to something." Billy Washington lives in East Oleanta, a small community in New York State. The technology on which his community relies is degrading, a result, we learn later, of a genetically-engineered organism that digests "duragem," a phlebtonium substance present in most advanced technology. With everything from kitchen bots to gravrail trains breaking down, the Livers are having a hard time, well, living. 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. Drew Arlen's inspirational Lucid Dreaming performance, "The Warrior," which leaves Livers with a desire to take risks and help each other, seems to confirm this suspicion. Yet as the story progresses, Kress reveals that the truth is far more complex. Someone else is responsible for the duragem plague, and while the Supers are not happy about it, they aren't entirely unhappy with it either, for it does play into their plans.
This ambiguity is a welcome change from the stark and opposing ideologies from Beggars in Spain. Since we do not get exposed to any Super perspectives, we are left in the dark as to what they are actually planning—kept guessing, actually, which I enjoyed to no end. The closest we get are glimpses through Drew Arlen's eyes, which mostly serve only to confirm to him, and us, how much of an outsider he remains despite his relationship with Miranda. So unlike in the first book, where the Supers' decision to undermine Jennifer and her supporters is clearly a good thing, the morality of what the Supers are doing is not so obvious here. Indeed, watching Drew's faith in Miranda falter, dim, and eventually gutter out is poignant and moving. Toward the climax, when Drew has to choose whether to call on Miranda for help or betray her to the GSEA, I really felt like I was reading a tragedy about these two main characters. 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.
That doesn't change with Billy Washington. 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. But a surprising number of Livers followed their new leader, burning to do something. To be heroes, which is the true hidden driver of the human mind.
That commentary comes from Drew after one of his performances of "The Warrior." I've always believed that the "greatest" people are those who inspire us to be better people ourselves (which is why I'm such a fan of the Doctor, from Doctor Who, but that's neither here nor there). Kress seizes on something true: beyond that basic need for survival, we yearn for connection, for community. We yearn to act, to accomplish, and yes, to be heroes, if not in the eyes of others than in our own personal tales. 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. That's what stories and storytellers do.
The third narrator, who is actually the first one in the book, is Diana Covington. She is an atypical agent of the Genetic Standards Enforcement Agency (guess what they do!) who gets involved with the situation in Billy's community. She befriends Billy and Lizzie, supporting the latter's drive to learn by exposing her to more opportunities for education, much to Angie's disapproval. 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. While she begins the story as an opponent of the Supers and their plot, whatever that is, eventually she has no choice but to find succour in Miranda.
The climax of Beggars and Choosers is nothing short of a gamechanger. We eventually learn what the Supers have been planning, and it involves a transformation of the body that they consider beneficial and liberating. 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 transformation—and, as far as Kress tells it, there are no side effects, no fatalities for the change. As much as the changes themselves might be a great boon, however, the deeper moral issue remains: what right do the Supers have to dictate such a change? Drew and Diana both struggle with this, and in a sense the question becomes largely academic once the deed is done. Nevertheless, it's both thought-provoking and dramatically effective, for this is the final wedge in the relationship between Miranda and Drew. 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.
I never intended…
But I would try to stop you again. And I don't expect you to understand.
What, exactly, does this mean? 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. I'm not sure if this is the case—and of course, the underlying theme here is that the difference is subjective rather than genetic. We cannot draw a line between "human" and "non-human," "posthuman," or "more than human" by dint of modified genes alone. But once a technology is developed and released, it cannot easily be retracted or redacted. In the book, one of the characters notes that nuclear weapons seem to be an exception, citing the two strikes to Japan as the only time they were used in war. Further consideration should belie this example: certain countries continue to use nuclear devices to this day, albeit not in open warfare; and the capability to construct those devices remains.
Really though, the comparison is rather inaccurate: a nuclear weapon is a weapon of mass destruction and inherently dangerous. The danger with genetic engineering is that it is all too easy to fail to perceive the danger. What's wrong with preventing terminal diseases and congenital defects? What's wrong with lengthening the life-span and banishing cancer? What's wrong with attempting to give one's children an advantage by tweaking intelligence, ambition, or compassion? Beggars in Spain develops that theme, showing how concern for one's children—for our future—can have unexpected consequences. Beggars and Choosers continues this, but its philosophy is now accompanied by a great story and believable characters. Instead of focusing on the question of children, Kress explores the dynamics between genetics and class and asks who should be in charge of regulating scientific advances and deciding, for humanity, what constitutes appropriate genetic manipulation.
I try not to define too rigidly what I consider "good SF," because sometimes "good" anything just defies rigid definitions! 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.
- Paperback, 448 pages
- Eos, 1991
Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.
I love to sleep. I prefer at least eight, preferably nine hours of sleep each night. Going to bed at midnight and waking up at nine in the morning is a perk of my madcap, Bohemian university student lifestyle that I will have to abandon once I become a stern, starched-collar high school teacher. For now, however, I like my sleep, and I will defend to the death my right to snore it. But if I did not need to sleep—had, in fact, grown up without ever knowing sleep—would I miss it? How would I be different? What if I weren't alone?
Beggars in Spain has a simple premise—that certain children have been genetically-engineered so that they do not sleep—with enormous implications (such as the Sleepless not aging). Once again, Nancy Kress uses genetic engineering to explore what it means to be human and how our society treats those who are different. I recognize her familiar themes from Nothing Human and "Act One". Kress is an awesome author of serious gene-manipulation fiction, by which I mean she doesn't use genetic engineering just as a science-fiction plot device or a background phenomenon, as one might see in other books where other motifs are more important. Whether she is altering the entire human genome, as in Nothing Human, or tweaking just a single trait, as she did here and in "Act One," Kress considers the implications of her changes in how these altered humans think and behave. More importantly, she considers how the un-altered will react. And Kress is writing posthuman fiction set not in the far-off future but in the present and in the near-future; she is writing about what our lives might be like in a decade or three.
So why did I have so much trouble with Beggars in Spain? I was constantly aware of how far through the book I was, and I never had that urge to continue reading like I do with books that really grip me. To be fair, I think I had a similar reaction to Nothing Human. Kress' writing style and my reading habits do not exist in perfect harmony, and sometimes that happens, even with authors whose work I admire on an intellectual or literary level. There must be more to it than that. Otherwise, I would feel comfortable giving this book five stars.
Beggars in Spain has an excellent premise, but its plot is unsustainable. The tragedy is that the overall story makes a lot of sense, and it should work: the Sleepless outperform the Sleepers, who channel their fear of difference into hatred and bigotry. So far, so good: none of this requires suspension of disbelief, at all, because it's a true story that has been repeated far too often in our history. It's still happening today. Groups fear those who are different, and then the fear turns to hate, people get stupid, and individuals die. I don't begrudge Kress the parallels. Intention is one thing, however, and execution is quite another.
The first part of the book, essentially what got published as a novella (and won both the Hugo and Nebula for it!), is great. I have few complaints about it. The supporting characters are somewhat thin, and the family situation is somewhat clichéd. Aside from that, however, Kress nicely portrays an American society struggling to deal with the rising population of Sleepless among them. The nascent internal divisions among the network of Sleepless is intriguing, and Kress follows up on this in the rest of the book.
There are two problems with the rest of the book, and their names are Leisha Cambden and Jennifer Sharifi. Leisha is the main character, theoretically the protagonist, though she does not do much protagonizing. Although seeing the world through Leisha's Sleepless yet compassionate eyes is interesting, Leisha as a person is rather dull and credulous. She talks a lot about Yagaiism and contracts and eponymous Spanish beggars, and once in a while she kidnaps abused Sleepless children. Most of her actions, however, like the creation of the Susan Bell Foundation, take place offstage. Plenty of characters around Leisha—Richard, Alice, Jordan, Drew—are doing things; Leisha just seems to sit around lamenting the fact that people are short-sighted and judgemental. She's a bit of a downer.
Jennifer Sharifi, on the other hand, is much more interesting but, again, doesn't quite work as a character. One of the two characters who come as close to antagonists as this book has, Jennifer is an ultra-cool Sleepless who pursues rationality and pragmatism to the point of irrationality. She is convinced the only route for Sleepless survival is voluntary exile: first to an orbital habitat, then out into space completely. All her energy is directed toward these efforts, laying the groundwork for the secession of the Sleepless Sanctuary from the United States. She continues to tinker with the genes of Sanctuary's children, creating a new generation of "Supers," Sleepless whose neurological functions are hyper-accelerated—at the price of a loss of motor control that manifests as twitches and stuttering. Oh, and she stacks Sanctuary's ruling council with her own family members and viciously suppresses any dissent.
Jennifer is a caricature of an ultra-reactionary leader of the persecuted. She's too bad, closer to a moustached villain than a devious leader fighting for the survival of the Sleepless. There's never a question of whether she has crossed a line; she has crossed it, and for that she receives no sympathy for me. I don't view her as a credible threat or challenge, because the other characters will always have the moral high ground over her. If she had been more ambiguous, or at least more formidable, I might have enjoyed her role as an antagonist more.
The other antagonist comes rather late to the party. He frames Sleepless for attacks on Sleepers, including a Sleeper scientist who approaches Leisha to have develop a way of turning Sleepers into Sleepless. He's a much less important figure than Jennifer, of course, so accordingly he has less depth. Still, his involvement in the scientist's murder wasn't exactly my favourite revelation of the book. I don't really hold it against him, but he does highlight a vacancy in the roster: Leisha et al needed a true ally, a powerful Sleeper who nevertheless championed the cause of the Sleepless.
I quite liked the Supers, and Miri, and their struggle as a faction within the Sanctuary faction. The whole Other-within-the-Other motif is appealing, and Miri is one of the easiest characters with whom I could sympathize. Watching her struggle with her feelings for Tony, her own brother, and reconcile the knowledge that her mother could not look upon her with love, was close to heartbreaking. And of course, Miri and the Supers are exactly Jennifer's mistake: she tries to create an ultra-superhuman being, something beyond even her own generation of Sleepless, but she haughtily thinks she can somehow control them. While the Supers' sundering of their Sanctuary shackles was predictable, it was also the most entertaining and riveting part of the book.
Beggars in Spain isn't bad, but it is heavyhanded almost across the board: characters, philosophy, and plot could all have done with a much lighter touch. Just thinking of all the times the characters referred to "beggars" or "beggars in Spain," as if Kress was not confident we would make the connection between the philosophy and the book's title, makes me wince. I appreciate subtlety, and I notice its absence. While seldom enough to ruin a book for me—especially one as admittedly thoughtful and intriguing as this—it does detract from my enjoyment. Books are my drug of choice, and Beggars in Spain left me unsatisfied.