"Beggars in Spain" Group Discussion
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I will wait a bit on discussing any specifics.
This is my first Kress book, just finished, and I've actually already started her latest Steal Across the Sky.
So far, I've had to force myself to set my disbelief aside. Although Kress tries to cover the bases in her explanation of the genetic alteration of no sleep, I had some issues. She dismisses dreams as nothing more than random firings of synapses and I'm not convinced - in research, theory, and personal experience, too often it seems definitely NOT random firings.
I also could have used a bit more convincing about the lack of real need for periodic mental time outs. Some strange things happen if people do not sleep for extended periods of time.
I can buy into the explanations ok for the purposes of the book, but I've been more convinced of much more exotic concepts by other authors whose reasoning seemed better extrapolations of known science.
As for Neuromancer, having just read it last December, it is decidedly less talky. The technology is just introduced with unobtrusive explanatory bits, and with no long talky lecture sections. Also, the tone is darker and real technology has caught up with the book in places.
Beggars in Spain so far feels a bit like another book I recently read, Scalzi's Zoe's Tale - in style and tone, they are both fast-paced easy reads with a focus on the characters.
EDIT - I just reread my last sentance and have to laugh - ANYTHING would seem to have a focus on characters after Last and First Men!
I was surprised the author set this book only 15 years into the future, so already the year the novel started has come and gone. I wouldn't have thought anyone would think that genetic research would develop that fast, that soon. And I agree she too easily dismissed the role of sleep in keeping our brains healthy.
It was pleasing that Kress got back to the psychological importance of sleep & dreaming @ the end.
Now it's on to The Woman in White for the classics group read. See all you SF'ers on the flip side.
On Neuromancer: reads fine so far. I imagine everyone with '80s hairdos and make-up.
Now I'm letting it sit in the hopes that some thoughts start to percolate into writability. This is the problem with ripping through enjoyable books too quickly - I feel like I don't digest them properly.
Neuromancer: good, skillful. I likea! The Rastafarians-in-Space somewhat got on my nerves, mon. And poor Case being reduced in action to jacking in and out of the matrix heralded the dismal physical passivity of the infotech revolution's visuals in art--oooh, the hero is now faxing! And phoning! Auughgh--the deadly e-mail!!! Duck!
There'll always be a spot for a good swordfight in my heart...
As for the misuse of the word alternate, you got me to look for it, though I figured there was a high probability it wouldn't be page 54 in my edition...and it wasn't. So how about giving the sentence or passage it's misused in - I have to know!!!
I read neuromancer recently, and it's definitely got more going on in every aspect. Considering when it was written, it had some remarkable insights into uses of technology. It's also the earliest use of "microsoft" that I'm aware of. Amusing. I also think of neuromancer every time a new "Pod hotel" crops up somewhere.
'"So we researchers were left with the alternate theory of sleep-driven immunoenhancement: that the burst of immune activity existed as a counterpart to "'etc. etc."
To make matters worse, I flipped through the rest of the book, just to see whither the plot is going, and if it would justify the linguistic torture, and--alas! alas!-fell upon this:
'"What are you laughing at?" Stella said, coming into Leisha's office after only the most peremptory knock.'
And that's it for me. A writer who can't tell "peremptory" from "perfunctory" is a sad phenomenon indeed.
No, my little under-cultured ThunderChicken, I just speak English much better than you do.
If that was a first book, it was an impressive one. Even from the point of view of slang, mores, technology, it doesn't sound as dated as one has grown to expect from oldish SF.
On alternate. Despite what Lola wants to believe English is a descriptive language not a prescriptive one and it is the case that plenty of Americans use alternate to mean alternative. Even the OED lists that meaning albeit quite a way down its definitions and marked as being US.
As for peremptory could it have been used in the sense of "admitting no denial or refusal"? That would seem to describe a quick rap on the door a fraction of a second before opening it.
I was willing to accept the two main premises she introduced as givens. (First, the fact of the sleepless and the fact that this makes them brilliant, purely rational types. Second, the "Y energy" has led to extreme wealth in the US.) I am not much for "super-human" characters, but here it was essential to the plot. I was glad to see Leisha's character develop over time as she becomes discouraged with the US and the legal system and actually begins experiencing emotions.
One annoyance was that while the author depicted the 'sleepers' as irrational and emotional, she seems to have perfect faith in the legal and political systems run by them. While all the sleepers hate the sleepless, the legal system functions perfectly to protect their rights. The Sanctuary is never once visited by the
government, because the Sanctuary "scrupulously" follows the law. The sleepless lawyer never loses a case, apparently because the law is fully rational and reasonable. Leisha gets "every question right" on her law school exams, etc. Point in fact; the law is NOT a fully rational system. There is no formula that you plug facts into and out pops a result. That’s a computer, not a human run, political system.
Another annoyance was the political system of the livers and donkeys. Given the assumed wealth of the nation I get the bourgeoisie public (shades of leisure cities of Dubai) but the people actually having power over the elite? And forcing them to give away their money for votes? Did I miss some subtle sarcasm? I might have.
In general the book was just awfully heavy handed when dealing w/ "concepts" though there were nice sections when Kress was "writing characters" which I thought worked well.
I was going to post something about this myself. For example, she used something as obvious as "beggars in Spain" at least half a dozen times to make sure we "got" the concept behind her title. Seriously, once was enough.
I still find the book quite readable. Every book I read doesn't have to a masterpiece of literary style. However, having the social and political concepts over-explained while leaving huge gaps in explaining the driving force of major new scientific developments will keep this off my favorites list.
The Americans are free to speak English their way; I'll speak it correctly. ;)
As for peremptory could it have been used in the sense of "admitting no denial or refusal"?
Please. Read the sentence again: "only the most" _____ knock. "Peremptory" in that spot is absolute nonsense.
I was wondering about "Spain", why Spain? I could swear there are more beggars in Italy. Or Morocco. Or any dozen places. Is it a quote?
The central idea, sleeplessness as a superpower, is pretty neat. It's just my personal low threshold of annoyance (getting worse with age) that makes it difficult to stay with books that only have plot going for them.
I guess I like more action in my sci fi. Altho from the blurbs I've read, Neuromancer doesn't appeal to me either.
The other aspects of the book were rather unmemorable. The idea of cheap power is good, but I believe it would have a far more drastic effect than what is portrayed in the book. The differences in economic opinions between the characters were repetitive and boring. Oh, and the "America only" plotline really annoyed me. No other country was interested in having Sleepless children?
And wasn't one of Jennifer Sharifi's parents foreign? Doesn't really change the point though.
You probably also complain that Americans leave out the extraneous "u"s in words like color and armor.
You make yourself look smitten when you follow me around saying how silly I look, dear TempestTurkey.
Because I am like unto Charlie Brown, in his eternal hope that Lucy will let him kick the ball one day:
What's correct usage to you (and I-don't-care-how-many-of your armies) is incorrect usage to me, with excellent reason: your usage ruins two good words (or three, if we consider what happens to 'substitute' along the way), impoverishing language and distorting thought.
Just look at first quoted Kress's sentence again, and the blurring between 'alternate' and 'alternative' it reflects. That's okay with you? (Searches on the web bring up a host of instances where people use these words as synonyms, even within a single paragraph--I think I may have linked already to the saddest example on page 1 of the search results I got, a blog by a university-based sociologist.)
Based on previous posts, I must suppose that it is, and therefore: I'm entirely uninterested in your personal opinion, let alone changing it (frankly, you don't seem willing to think about my arguments; also, I have the impression you haven't studied Latin, which would impede understanding explanations of how Latinate words and synonyms work) but if you positively insist on repeating this discussion, I suggest we move to one of the language groups, so people here can continue with talking about the book.
The problem you are having is called "accepting reality" because reality doesn't seem to conform to what you wish it were. The reality is that "alternate" is often used in place of "alternative", and that usage is entirely correct. If you have a problem with it, then your problem is with the language, and with the dictionary.
You don't get to define "incorrect usage". Sorry. You can go and wail and gnash your teeth now.
(Oh and, yeah, twisting around a user name into some sort of insulting variant, that'll help make your point. That always makes you look like you have an argument that holds water).
I hoped for a discussion of her ideas (what about altering the genes in embryos and the effect on society) and plot twists. It makes me sad that the consensus here seems to be dismissive of Kress as an SF writer, and critical of her writing skills.
I thought her book was logical, based on the then-current and now far more advanced uses of genetic manipulation, plus the fact that it is only available to the rich at this time and for the foreseeable future, and there are children already born growing up with advantages of height, IQ, etc.
At best, this thread states that the people participating in Group Read didn't enjoy/like/appreciate this single novel written by Kress. No one has given a bad opinion of Kress's entire body of work, based on this single novel. Perhaps the group might have enjoyed one of her other other works more than this. What do you think is Kress' best work?
I was actually in a similar situation to you - the last group read was one of my favourite books and authors - "Last and First Men" by Olaf Stapledon. Few people here enjoyed it, and all gave valid reasons for their lack of enjoyment (although I disagree with their conclusions).
I would suggest enjoying the disagreement. You mightn't agree with the majority opinion of everyone on here, but wouldn't it be boring if we all agreed on everything?
I would have liked to see how different cultures would have approached the idea of Sleepless-ness. I don't think all cultures would have behaved the same way as America did, and that this was not even examined cursorily was a pity.
Nancy’s fiction has won four Nebula Awards, for “Out of All Them Bright Stars,” “The Flowers of Aulit Prison,” “Beggars in Spain,” and “Fountain of Age.” “Beggars in Spain” also won a Hugo. In addition, “Flowers of Aulit Prison” garnered a Sturgeon, and the novel PROBABILITY SPACE won the 2003 John W. Campbell Memorial Award. (from her website)
So maybe if the group had read one of the other Nebula Award winners, opinions would have been different. Maybe the group will choose one of her other Nebula's to read some other time - of the four of them, I have only read Beggars in Spain. Or maybe her latest book, Steal Across the Sky would be chosen.
Another thing that really bugged me was the unexplained link of sleeplessness and increased lifespan. I couldn't shake the impression that Kress started with sleeplessness, decided it didn't provide enough of a difference, and decided to throw increased lifespan into the mix.
For as long as the book is, there is just so little depth, like she threw out a bunch of interesting ideas. The plot seems more arbitrary than inevitable. I have a feeling I might have like the novella better. I wouldn't have the same expectations about story development.
Pandababy, I wouldn't conclude anything about other works by Kress. In fact, I still like this one ok as a light read.
As for genetic modication, that idea has been around for a long time. I'm actually surprised in the book that supposedly sleeplessness is the one profound modification developed with the power to splinter society, the rest being to correct or improve typical human traits.
In fact, I have trouble believing that 8 more waking hours a day makes the difference between power and powerless. It's an advantage, but enough to put every sleeper at the mercy of the sleepless? What about working smarter rather than longer.
I think it's possible a book could convince these things were true, but there were too many "givens" to accept without emerging from the story more naturally.
As a side note, one of my favorite stories centered on genetics and modications is a movie that came out 3 or 4 years after "Beggars in Spain", called "Gattica". Quite a different treatment, and not to everyone's taste, but I just thought I'd put in a plug for it.
(Geez, a language group, I said. Cat got your English?)
With apologies to others...
My problem is with the usage that's marked "N. Am." in my dictionary and a thesaurus, yes. It is a problem regarding, first of all, a general linguistic principle, and secondly, English words with Latin roots. As far as I can tell, you seem to find it incomprehensible that someone might have such a problem--although it has been pointed out a number of times that the conflation of "alternate" and "alternative" is an Americanism (apparently of recent vintage), therefore not something committed by the majority of English speakers in the world, therefore something worthy of noting and judging. But I have a feeling, based on your steady refusal to listen to what I'm saying, to address my points, to answer my questions and generally behave like you were genuinely interested in the subject, that you don't give a fig about language and any debates about language--you're merely nettled that I dare pronounce this American usage abhorrent.
Well, too bad.
I'm glad to know you're interested in reading more of her books, because I think she emphasizes social and psychological issues in her SF, and that is the kind of SF that usually interests me the most -- it is why I enjoy Cherryh and Moon so much too. I have no objections to blasters and chase scenes (there are plenty of both in Butterfly and Hellflower) - but I want to have some big issues of humanity to consider while enjoying the fight or the flight.
English is not anchored to Latin (actually, English is only loosely related to Latin to begin with). Pretending that a Latin heritage gives some sort of cachet to a word, and binds it into a particular straitjacket meaning is to simply close one's eyes to the fact that language shifts. Read Poul Anderson's Uncleft Beholding sometime to see what would happen if language didn't shift.
Also, as much as you will hate it, it is likely that, like most other things in English, the American usage will eventually be adopted for most speakers. So you are just going to have to live with it.
One thing I have thought is that the final portion of the book with a small minority supporting a large mostly idle class seems to hint at the possible future in which an aging population of retirees is supported by a small younger workforce. Kress seems to make the case that those who work and support the rest need to just suck it up and do their jobs, but I'm not so sure the argument holds up.
Regarding sleepless in other cultures, there was a mention of the sleepless in India being more accepted than those in the United States. I also found the story line of the little kid who became the lucid dreaming artist quite intriguing.
I think Kress used the extreme view of how people would react just to prove a point- that we are all afraid of what we don’t understand. Leisha herself is afraid of the supers and then she catches herself and realizes that she has had a glimpse into what her sister must have felt time and again. And frankly I think a lot of people would have that kind of reaction towards their own genetically altered children but they would shake it off and deal with their feelings. I do think there would be protests and people who would rail against genetic manipulation if this occurred in real life but I don’t think parents would abandon their own children in such large numbers as happens in Beggars.
Overall I enjoyed this story and wanted to finish it, but Kress did go a little overboard with her explanations. I was able to read past that because I was so interested in the questions raised about social responsibility and how society reacts to media coverage. I think a lot of scenarios were just vehicles to comment on our own society and how absurd the mob mentality is. I still don’t know how I feel about genetic manipulation but at least the questions are there now.
But overall, I'm not sorry I read it, even if it took over a month because I kept just not caring for long periods of time.
"This could have benefits beyond more wakefulness. Studies have shown that people who sleep an average amount of 30 to 60 minutes below average live the longest, said Dr. Daniel F. Kripke, emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego."