Original review posted at: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/19727.html#cutid1
Why I read this: [info]calico_reaction's Alphabet Soup book club
So, as usual, when this book was chosen as September's pick for [info]calico_reaction's Alphabet Soup book club, I had never heard of it. However, I was completely and utterly sold on the premise: gene-altering to make it possible for people to never need sleep? THAT IS SO COOL. I've never been a huge sleeper (though that seems to be changing as I get older.. guh) but I've still always wished I never needed sleep. Think of all the books I could read stuff I could do!!
So, I went into this book with a fair bit of excitement. I also really loved Nancy Kress's Author's Note/Beforeword at the beginning of the book in which she explains how she came up with the premise.
Overall, it was a good experience, but I had some issues. Mostly to do with length.
All right SO, the first half of this book was excellent. I really enjoyed the first part of the book, where we watch Leisha grow up as a Sleepless child and slowly watch as she begins to realize just what that means and how that affects how people see her and how that affects how they treat her. We get to watch her find other friends, other people who are also Sleepless, as she feels (understandably) isolated.
It then shifts to Leisha's adult life. She's come to fully realize that being a Sleepless means people will, whether they realize it or not, fear her, be jealous of her, and thus, feel anger towards her and the other Sleepless in the United States. I loved how Kress handled the segregation that ensued from people being able to not need sleep. She also added in the fact that people who are Sleepless are inherently more inclined and apt at learning (making them super smart) and also be incredibly less susceptible to aging. I mean, to be compeltely honest, I would feel pretty bitter myself if I were a Sleeper in a world that had Sleepless. Maybe I wouldn't be prejudiced against them, but I would certainly wish to possess the traits they have.
I feel it's also worth making note of Leisha's character, because I felt a little torn about her. On the one hand, I loved her; she's an incredibly compassionate person, and it's really admirable that she refuses to take sides in the Sleeper/Sleepless debate, despite being a Sleepless herself and being subjected to prejudicial treatment because of this (which is something she also never chose.) She refuses to see Sleepers as the enemy and will help them just as readily as she would help the Sleepless. Now, while that's all very noble and stuff, it was also frustrating because she really did come off as naive, or just plain delusional sometimes. She would constantly defend Sleepers who were being very discriminant against Sleepless, and while I realize that not ALL Sleepers were hate-mongerers, I just sometimes wished she acknowledged those who DID more.
I *really* loved the end of this first book, when Leisha and Alice rescue Stella Bevington from her abusive home. It really drove home the whole theme of "beggars" and completely changed Leisha's view on things. The whole metaphor of the "beggars in Spain" was really awesome actually, and I loved it. I especially loved when Tony brought it up, because I remember writing down in my notes that I was confused about Leisha's reasoning: she doesn't mind helping the Sleepers because she feels like she needs to contribute to society in order to fulfill her moral obligations, as stated by her belief in the political system inplemented by that Yagai guy. However, the whole system relies on trade, and I just couldn't see Sleepers being able to trade (fairly) with the Sleepless, so in turn, I couldn't see how Leisha thought she was going to negotiate with the Sleepers. (Of course, all these notions are sort of turned on their heads at the beginning of book one.)
I think it's *also* worth mentioning that Beggars in Spain was originally written as a novella (and won the Hugo I believe) and that that novella constituted the first part of this book. It was easily my favorite part of the book, and I can see why it won the Hugo -- it's really well done.
The whole court case in the second part of the book also really engaged me as well though. Especially the end, when it's revealed that the doctor has been lying the whole time, and it's discovered that that asshole at the scooter place planned everything -- that was all a bit of an OMG moment for me.
One more thing I want to mention about the first half of the book (and this part actually applies to the book as a whole, because it's present throughout) is the relationship between Leisha and her twin sister Alice. The two are fraternal twins, so Alice was never subjected to the gene-altering that Leisha was, making her a Sleeper. This made things... strainged between the two sisters (to say the least.) At the beginning of the book, I thought Alice was a real bitch, but I understood WHY she was a bitch. As the novel progressed though, so too did the relationship between these two sisters change and evolve. It was all so complicated and messy, and ultimately, it ended well, which made me happy. I really wanted to see these two reconcile, and for the most part, I think they did.
So, the first two parts of the book (which constitutes about half the novel) was all fine and dandy. It had a lot going for it: a mostly likable protanist, some interesting philosophy, some fairly complicated ethics and ethical questions, and a court case that had enough intrigue to keep me glued to my e-reader.
The third and fourth parts of the novel is where things really started to sloooww down for me.
Don't get me wrong; there's quite a bit to like about these next two sections as well, but I find they were dragged out a little too much, and I found myself wishing that the book would just END ALREADY.
I liked some of the issues brought up in the second half; the whole idea of there being another tier of Sleepless who are even more powerful (mentally) than the first batch of Sleepless was interesting, though very, very predictable. I found it quite obvious from the get-go that the Sleepless were going to start discriminating against the Super-Sleepers, are least start trying to exert some kind of control over them, which is exactly what happened. I predicted that these Super-Sleepers would notice and resent that and would in turn rebel and cause a shit-storm of epic proportions, which is exactly what happened. However, I liked Miranda's character, which certainly helped matters.
Another qualm I had was with the villain of (most) of the novel, Jennifer Sharifi. She definitely wasn't one-dimensional, but she was just... too evil I guess? I get that she was just trying to keep her people safe, but I don't know. She goes to the extremes sometimes, and by the end, she went a little over-board. I guess that was the point though; we're supposed to watch her spiral out of control, from having a fairly reasonable idea and just taking it way too far.
Ultimately though, this second half really, REALLY suffered from the length. I can't stress that enough. It's very likely just a personal thing, but I loved the first half of this book so much that I really was sad to see it lose steam in its second half. There were some interesting bits, but it just felt too weighed down by the length.
Final Verdict: This is a bit of a tough call. I *really* liked the first half of this book. It's really engaging (especially the first part of the book, though the second part was pretty good too, I thought) and the awesome premise pulled me right in. Kress paints a very realistic picture of how things would probably turn out if people could be born as Sleepless. Leisha is a bit naive and on the verge of being delusional, but she's such a nice and compassionate character that I couldn't help but like her anyway. Her strained relationship with her sister was also really well done, and I very much enjoyed reading about that and watching it change and grow. Where the book *really* faltered for me was in its second half. I'm not sure why, but it just felt LONG, despite introducing a great new character (Miranda) and presenting different philosophical and ethic ideas concerning the Sleepless. However, I found many of the events in the second half of the novel to be fairly predictable, and for the most parts, things played out just as I predicted they would, which made the plot feel even longer than it really was. So yeah, it wasn't ALL bad, but compared to the AWESOME beginning, I felt a bit let down and disappointed. I would still whole-heartedly recommend reading this though, but perhaps just the novella form (which was only the first part [out of four] from this novel), as it was definitely my absolute favorite chunk of the story.