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Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
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Beggars in Spain (1993)

by Nancy Kress

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Sleepless (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,156None7,019 (3.93)1 / 81
  1. 10
    Heart of Gold by Sharon Shinn (espertus)
    espertus: Both books deftly depict struggles between tribal and familial loyalty and broader humanitarianism among human races different from our own.
  2. 11
    Amped by Daniel H. Wilson (one-horse.library)
  3. 11
    Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Sassm)
    Sassm: This book explores the theme of genetic engineering but takes it in a very different direction.
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English (45)  Catalan (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
*This review has spoilers.*

In the near future, Leisha is one of the first generation of children genetically engineered not to need sleep, and finds herself hated and feared because of the advantages that gives her.

I first read this novel long ago, and I just reread the novella it was based on to refresh my memory, so this review will focus on the novella, which is the opening section of the longer novel. I have seen this book listed on many libertarian book lists, but it is my opinion that it considers but ultimately refutes libertarian ideals, at least those ideals that we often associate with Ayn Rand.

Like most of the Sleepers, Leisha subscribes to a philosophy popularized by Kenzo Yagai, who also invented the cheap energy source that is transforming the world. In that philosophy, a person's greatest dignity comes from being able to do what they do well, freely and without coercion, and to trade that skill with others. This is symbolized by the contract. If a person is not allowed to achieve or must operate under coercion, then that robs them of their spiritual dignity.

However, there is the problem of the so-called beggars in Spain, who have nothing to give and want what you have--and may be willing to do violence to get it. They cannot live on their own merits, and they aren't willing to abide by the rules of civilizations. What does the world owe them? The libertarians, or Yagaiists, would argue, the world owes them nothing. Leisha feels there is something wrong with this, but it takes her a while to realize what.

The Sleepless are superior in nearly every way to the Sleepers, and that is why they come to be hated and feared. They cannot engage with the rest of the world in equal trade because they are not born equal. They come to the conclusion that their only recourse is to withdraw from society into an isolated refuge called Sanctuary. Again, Leisha does not think this is the right move.

Finally, as she and her twin sister Alice (who is not a Sleepless) rescue a sleepless child from an abusive home--and Alice basically saves everybody, much to Leisha's surprise--she realizes the truth. This is where the refutation happens. Trade is not linear. It is more like a web. A "beggar in Spain" is not fated to permanently be a beggar; they may have something of value to give that only becomes apparent later, like Alice. Human society is an ecology, so you give what you can when you can, not knowing whether you will receive something in return now or later, or even if the person you benefit will go on to benefit someone else. However, by giving when it is needed, and not expecting something in return immediately, the whole ecology benefits--including the so-called elite.

This is where we get stuck when we consider libertarianism in the political arena today. There is often the attitude of "what's in it for me?" The benefit may not be immediately apparent, but there is a benefit to us all. We are not individuals free-floating out there, tethered to no one, reliant only on ourselves. We are part of an ecology, and all of us are necessary parts of that ecology. Even the beggars.

First read in 1990s; reread novella in 2014. ( )
1 vote sturlington | Feb 10, 2014 |
I've had this on my Kindle for far too long & decided to finally read it. I'm so glad that I have! The story follows Leisha & others genetically modified before birth not to require sleep. They don't age in the usual way either & with all the time they save sleeping, they are able to achieve much more than their sleeping counterparts. The novel spans many years & gives a broad look at how their lives proceed & the effects of the society they create. Ideas explored are what the strong owe to the weak & why & how much control does one need to exercise over others. What is truly evident is that regardless of intelligence, paranoia, zealotry & extreme tribalism can captivate humans to the point of criminality & cruelty. Most specifically this is displayed in Hawke & Jennifer. They're two sides to the same coin.

I admit that I was most interested in Leisha's relationship with her non-modified twin, Alice. It was Leisha's most constant & interesting relationship for most of the story even when they were estranged. Second to that, I found Drew an interesting sort & wanted more detail on the followup to his accident as it's not even mentioned that his attacker had any consequence for his action. Many of the other characters aren't given depth either & simply help moving along the plot but I did want to know more about them & how they felt & were motivated in the world in which they lived. Still, I found it an engaging story & couldn't put it down for long (when I didn't have my Kindle to hand, I continued reading it on my phone).

The ending was solid but felt a little heavy handed. I will likely read the rest of the trilogy but as of the time of this review, they aren't available on Kindle. Perhaps they will be soon or I'll find them at the library. ( )
  anissaannalise | Jan 1, 2014 |
What if there was a class of human beings genetically made to be better - smarter, more capable and longer lived. How would this affect society and the economy? What sort of backlash would they face? Kress raises questions about society, community, family and individualism in this thought-provoking novel.

The premise is that in the near future doctors are able to genetically create “Sleepless” children. Never needing to sleep, these children learn extremely quickly, and are incredibly productive. Many “normals" see them as having an “unfair advantage,” and even some parents who paid for Sleepless children find they are unable to cope with the reality of having children who are awake all the time and constantly learning. When it is discovered the Sleepless are in fact longer lived - possibly immortal - the already-high tension between the Sleepers and the Sleepless escalates to hatred.

Leisha Camden, one of the first Sleepless, grew up doted on by her billionaire father, but also pained by watching him ignore her unmodified twin. Leisha has spent her entire life trying to bridge the gap between Sleepless and Sleeper, and is continually met by opposition on both sides. The Sleepless feel that they are superior and don’t owe anything to the primitives who can’t keep up, while the Sleepers feel threatened, reduced to second class citizens.

Leisha is a lawyer and Lincoln scholar. She is level-headed, rational and believes in the system, in law and order. It’s both different and refreshing to find a woman character portrayed with this Spock-like level of calm, unemotional rationality. She subscribes to a libertarian philosophy known as “Yagaiism” named after a businessman who created the “Y-energy" everybody uses in this future world, BUT she struggles with how to reconcile this with her compassion for the less fortunate, the “beggars in Spain.”

Eventually many of the Sleepless - except for Leisha - separate themselves in a closed community, known as “Sanctuary.” They resent the unmodified humans, whom they see as nothing more than “beggars” profiting off of the work of Sleepless doctors and scientists, while being unable to offer anything of value in return. But the rules for what constitutes a member of their special “community” continually grow stricter and stricter - for example, what happens when a person is injured in an accident and can no longer be a productive, contributing member of the society? Are they just another “beggar?” What do you do with them? How far does it go?

The novel is divided into four parts, each jumping ahead a few decades at a time to give a picture of how society is changing and adjusting. Things don’t stay the same - for the world, or for the characters - from the beginning to the end. Beggars in Spain is an interesting, thought-provoking read that explores some heavy themes. ( )
1 vote catfantastic | Dec 16, 2013 |
This was a pretty interesting idea, but it was too long and there were too many characters involved. It may have been better left in it's original form as a novella (which I have not read although I believe it may have been the first section of the book and the other sections were added.)

I thought the writing was good, tech/science stuff was cool and believable and my favorite part was probably the Superbrights and the irony of their plight.

So if you're looking to mark this classic off your checklist and you're a slow reader like me, I would probably suggest reading the novella instead and moving on to other classics.(less) ( )
  ragwaine | Aug 26, 2013 |
Totally was NOT my genre at all when I read it. Loved it. Instantly had to read the second book. ( )
  lesmel | Jul 13, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
BEGGARS IN SPAIN (Avonova/Morrow, $23), by Nancy Kress, suffers from an excess of ambition. ... Despite some nice touches -- what penalty do the Sleepless pay for their inability to dream? -- the narrative degenerates into a series of future-history vignettes, inhabited by unchanging characters who fail to engage our emotions or our intellect.
 

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nancy Kressprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Binger,BillCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jackson, KennethCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Picacio, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
"With energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories." - Abraham Lincoln to Major General Joseph Hooker, 1863
Dedication
For Marcos - again
For my sister Kate
First words
They sat stiffly on his antique Eames chairs, two people who didn't want to be here, or one person who didn't want to and one who resented the other's reluctance.
Quotations
"Sleep served an important evolutionary function. Once Clem Pre-Mammal was done filling his stomach and squirting his sperm around, sleep kept him immobile and away from predators. Sleep was an aid to survival. But now it's a leftover mechanism, a vestige like the appendix. It switches on every night, but the need is gone. So we turn off the switch at its source, in the genes."
"Compared to their age mates, the nonsleep children--who had not had IQ genetic manipulation--are more intelligent, better at problem-solving, and more joyous."
He told them this very carefully, finding the right words for truth. Truth was very important, Leisha already knew. Truth was being true to yourself, your specialness. Your individuality. An individual respected facts, and so always told the truth.
"A man's worth to society and to himself doesn't rest on what he thinks other people should do or be or feel, but on himself. On what he can actually do, and do well. People trade what they do well, and everyone benefits. The basic tool of civilization is the contract. Contracts are voluntary and mutually beneficial. As opposed to coercion, which is wrong."
"No, the only dignity, the only spirituality, rests on what a man can achieve with his own efforts. To rob a man of the chance to achieve, and to trade what he achieves with others, is to rob him of his spiritual dignity as a man."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
The novel and the novella are not the same. The novel is much longer and tells a more complete story of Leisha's life.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0380718774, Mass Market Paperback)

Many of us wish we could get by with less sleep. Beggars in Spain extrapolates that wish into a future where some people need no sleep at all. Nancy Kress, an award-winning author of novels, short stories, and columns on writing, has created another thoughtful but dramatic statement on social issues.

Leisha Camden was genetically modified at birth to require no sleep, and her normal twin Alice is the control. Problems and envy between the sisters mirror those in the larger world, as society struggles to adjust to a growing pool of people who not only have 30 percent more time to work and study than normal humans, but are also highly intelligent and in perfect health. The Sleepless gradually outgrow their welcome on Earth, and their children escape to an orbiting space station to set up their own society. But Leisha and a few others remain behind, preaching acceptance for all humans, Sleepless and Sleeper alike. With the conspiracy and revenge that unwinds, the world needs a little preaching on tolerance.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:04 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The product of an experiment in genetic manipulation, superintelligent Leisha Camden is forced to live a life apart from most "ordinary" people and seeks the companionship of other superhumans.

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