Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Beggars in Spain, the perfect ebook for sleepless nights


By Eliot Mercury
eBooks from Fictionwise.com can be read on most Windows CE-based devices. However, support for Microsoft Reader on the Pocket PC is still in development but should be ready soon.

In June of this year, scientists announced they had succeeded in sequencing the human genome, opening the door to a new future of genetic engineering. How long will it be before we begin custom-designing our children? What will the consequences be? Those questions of tomorrow are being explored today in the realm of science fiction.

Beggars in Spain, a novella by Nancy Kress, was first published in 1991 and was hailed as a great story on genetic engineering. It also achieved the rare honor of being both a Hugo and a Nebula award winner. Fictionwise.com recently released an ebook version of Nancy Kress's novella, available in Doc format for $2.49. Fictionwise.com also has an audio interview with Nancy Kress (using RealPlayer) on their site.

Insomnia envy

Kress says in the audio interview that the idea for this story came from her jealousy of friends who only needed four or five hours of sleep per night. She reports she needs a solid nine hours. Kress mused about how much more she could accomplish in life if all those hours "wasted" in sleep were made productive.

As the story opens, a wealthy financier makes use of genetic engineering to produce a "designer daughter." He demands that the scientists in charge ensure that she be smart, pretty, and, most importantly, have no biological need to sleep. The story follows this bio-engineered girl-Leisha Camden-from pre-birth through her twenties. During this time, several thousand more "Sleepless" children are produced. A backlash develops against the Sleepless, and much of the story revolves around the different ways Sleepless people react to the sudden outbreak of hate.

The backlash includes various laws passed to discriminate against the Sleepless. For example, an Olympic hopeful who happens to be Sleepless is banned from competing, because her ability to practice 12 hours per day, even while attending high school full time, is seen as an unfair advantage. The state of Georgia makes sexual intercourse between Sleepless and normal people a crime. More extreme forms of discrimination and violence also appear.

One group of the Sleepless decides on an isolationist approach. They plan to build a remote, contained city in which they will trade their talents with the outside world in safety. Another group pushes for integration with society. The Sleepless face additional problems as the story progresses and more social consequences of their engineered biology are revealed.