Genesis by Bernard Beckett

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Genesis by Bernard Beckett

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An intriguingly styled sci-fi book of ideas, which takes old themes in a very modern approach and gets us hooked on wide-ranging concepts in a commendable way.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
ISBN: 978-1847247292

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The reviewer sat down with the fancy hardback review copy of Genesis by Bernard Beckett and turned the pages, not knowing at all what to expect.

  • What did he find?
  • He found a science fiction tale set in a futuristic New Zealand. The setting of the book is based on current concerns - environmental problems, global oil wars and animosity, and so on, and a plague war has meant NZ is cordoned off with a Great Sea Fence. It is living under a strange Plato's Republic, based on a mix of ancient Greek life (naked wrestling and so on) with the modern (relationships arbitrated by rampant gene testing). One of the soldiers defending it, Adam, takes it upon himself, however, to betray his state, and let a young girl alone on a raft through the cordon, and befriend her. But it is not her that will provide the crux of the book.
  • So why is he reviewing the book in such a style?
  • Because the book is in the form of an oral exam, which a young woman, Anax, is undergoing - it is her knowledge of the story we witness rather than the story itself. Also, the book is largely set out as a playscript, with the regular 'character name:dialogue' format meaning this book reads in a very fresh manner.
  • Does this review include teasers to give subtle hints at what the plot is going to cover?
  • Yes, it does. Worth raising are questions such as, what bearing on things - and Adam - will an AI robot have?, what is the future for the republic?, and what might the consequences for Anax of passing - or failing - the test be?
  • Does the unusual format of the book work?
  • On a whole, yes. It was certainly made a lot different for the sake of being presented in such a way. It didn't really need it, but on the whole it helps. We not only get the bare bones of narrative about Anax, and the script of the oral test, but described holotapes of Adam and the AI, and it's a very easy swing from one to the other. The book boils down in the end to a novel of ideas - quite an old-fashioned approach to sci-fi. The blend of ancient lifestyle choices and political and social nature of the Republic, and the age-old philosophical questions that we encounter are only enlivened by the switches in narrative style.
  • Is the book a success?
  • The claim that it is already in seventeen translated versions around the world since it first appeared in 2006 proves it must have been. For this reviewer, who wouldn't normally expect to get a lot out of philosophical musings, there was still a very compelling introduction with the girl and the Sea Fence, a great enjoyment in the quirks of presentation, and an ending that ramps up the plot to a surprising conclusion, that proves however middling some of the longueurs might have been, the author really does know what he's doing. However it seems unlikely such a book would be received completely by the teen market which it allegedly is aimed at.
  • So the book is worth 4 Bookbag stars?
  • That is correct. The circular nature of some of the dialogue, and heavy themes, is balanced by the more-than noticeable styling. On the whole this is a book that will find great favour with a few, measured plaudits from many, and unfortunately a disregard from some who do not find the philosophical bent anywhere near as compelling as the first quarter and general set-up.

The reviewer thanked Quercus for the review copy, and submitted the above response. He declared that, if it is unusual societies for a teen sci-fi audience you desire, a very different style of book would be Quillan Games by D J MacHale, while Top Ten Dystopian Books For Children will keep you engaged for a long time.

Booklists.jpg Genesis by Bernard Beckett is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009.

Booklists.jpg Genesis by Bernard Beckett is in the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2009.

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