By Bernard Beckett
First Published: 2006
Review © 2012 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalypse, Mystery, Young Adult
Genesis is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel from Bernard Beckett that is classified as a young adult novel. I heard such good things about it that I decided to add it to my reading list and I’m happy to report that this is a novel that is as well worth reading for adults as it is for young adults. It’s a short novel that can be read quickly but contains some big ideas that will make you think long after finishing the book.
Genesis is set in an isolated island Republic in a future where wars and plagues have destroyed most of the world population. As far as the citizens of the republic know, they may be the only remaining outpost of advanced civilization. They’ve been able to stay isolated from the surrounding world desolation by a combination of their geographic isolation and a strong military security that is dedicated to maintaining their isolation. They have also been greatly aided by ever more advanced robots to take care of much of the manual labor.
Against this background, a young Anaximander begins a lengthy academic oral examination for entrance into the top academic institution called “The Academy”. Her chosen subject for the final examination is the life of a famous historic figure that is central to key events that led to momentous changes in the Republic. Most of the novel consists of the oral examination where Anaximander delves deeply into the life of her hero. As the examiners press Anaximander to explain the background to the events and to make insights into the motives of her hero, the reader learns about key events in the Republic’s history and how these shaped the structure and beliefs of their current society. Eventually, Anaximander finds that the examination leads her to make completely new discoveries about her hero that uncover disturbing secrets about the Republic and “The Academy” that threaten to shatter the world she knows.
The technique that Beckett employs in this novel is highly effective and entertaining. The main character is young and naïve and finds that she doesn’t know nearly as much as she thought she did despite her extremely extensive research. Everything about the history of the republic is a mystery to the reader which gets slowly unveiled one layer at a time. But then, some major twists come to light as even Anaximander finds unexpected new discoveries.
The character development is very good for a novel this short and the ideas are very big for a novel this small. Genesis examines some of the things that could go wrong on a global scale in the future. It also examines the nature of human intelligence and artificial intelligence and contains some highly entertaining debates on the differences between human and artificial intelligence that should not be missed. If you have any interest in artificial intelligence or in general post-apocalyptic science fiction novels, Genesis is a must read book.