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Dreams Before the Start of Time Paperback – April 18, 2017
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“Charnock pulls hard on the parent’s universal worry—that no matter what we do and how much we want the best for our children, somehow we aren’t doing it right—in a skillfully executed multigenerational saga that explores a potential future driven by rapid development of reproductive technologies…A story that feels personal and intimate.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Philip K. Dick Award finalist Charnock follows the progression of reproductive science across people in five generations…The reader will experience not only the changing views of society at large, but also the progression of the characters’ views as new opportunities arise for the next wave of parents. None of the technology seems far-fetched, leaving the reader to wonder whether this is predictive fiction.” —Booklist
“highly enjoyable and thought-provoking…The willingness to experiment with viewpoint through time, as well as present a human agenda (what little science fiction these days can say that), make the novel very worthwhile.…The futuristic technology depicted is extremely likely—in development as we speak—making the novel groundbreaking.” —Speculiction
"Not a sequel to Charnock's previous novel, Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind so much as its organic successor, Dreams Before the Start of Time is a luminous, deftly crafted and occasionally disturbing portrait of the future we may be entering. A novel that explores the notion of family in all its myriad permutations, Dreams Before the Start of Time is science fiction at its most contemplative, asking intriguing questions about human reproduction, gender identity and interpersonal relationships and providing thought-provoking answers on a human scale. Anne Charnock's third novel leaves the reader in no doubt of her evolving talent, and showcases all that is most imaginative and forward-thinking in British science fiction right now."—Nina Allan, author of The Race
“Charnock’s third novel is a beautifully nuanced exploration of future developments in fertility science. The science underpinning the narrative is subtle and unobtrusive, allowing the novel to shine on the neuroses of its large, three-generational cast of characters as they struggle to come to terms with the decisions of their parents. As with her previous novels, Charnock is marvellous at communicating a huge amount in a short space.” —E.J. Swift, author of The Osiris Project series
“Charnock’s interest is always in the human aspect first: her characters are real, living, breathing individuals; lost in some ways, directive in others.…With Dreams Before the Start of Time already on my Best SF of 2017 list, Anne Charnock is now solidified as one of my favorite SF authors.” —From Couch to Moon
“This is an excellent novel, and a worthy successor to the very wonderful Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind.” —Adam Roberts, author of The Thing Itself
About the Author
Anne Charnock’s writing career began in journalism. Her articles appeared in the Guardian, New Scientist, International Herald Tribune, and Geographical. Her debut novel, A Calculated Life, was a finalist for the 2013 Philip K. Dick Award and the 2013 Kitschies Golden Tentacle Award. Her second novel, Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind, was included in the Guardian’s “Best science fiction and fantasy books of 2015.” Learn more at www.annecharnock.com, on Twitter @annecharnock, and on Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/annecharnock.
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Top customer reviews
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*I received this book through Goodreads Giveaways. The format was Amazon Kindle.
I have no idea what this book was about. I do not see a relationship between the title and the story. I did enjoy the writing with it's ease of flow.
There are several parts, all taking place in different future time periods. It seems that in the future, people do not feel it's necessary to marry but it absolutely necessary to be a parent. Pregnancy inside a woman is frowned upon, so most individuals create designer babies. A man can have his sperm broken down to create an egg that will then mate with his own sperm. A woman can use sperm donors. It was strange to read about a world where having a child is more valued than marriage. It was also strange to read about individuals creating children in a way that is most convenient to them with many options for the DNA makeup of that child.
One part examines the individuals and explains their personal choices. The next part examines the children of these parents and how their choices have impacted their lives. The last part examines grandchildren and how they are connected to their parents and grandparents.
What I don't understand is why? What was the point/message/moral of all of this storytelling? Most of the time I just wanted to stop reading because I couldn't connect to the stories or the characters. I read a lot of books and feel I am fairly good at reaching the deeper meaning. But I really failed in this book. That was disappointing.
Featuring generations of friends and family, Dreams Before the Start of Time is technically a saga. Lacking the operatics the term is known for, however, the novel chooses instead to look into the human details of how pregnancy and realistic, alternate forms of reproduction might impact people’s thoughts and views about life, as well as the thoughts and views of the children and people brought to life through these non-standard means. Each chapter told from a different character’s perspective, the narrative perpetually evolves through the personal reflections and social dynamics inherent to the scenarios. Presentation more open-ended than manipulative, Charnock allows the potential of each scene and chapter to form its own thought flowers in the reader’s mind, the resulting worldview one balanced between Charnock’s and the reader’s perspective.
Dreams kicks off with a woman in 2034 named Millie who is just beginning understand the full implications of being pregnant—a cycle of emotions hitting her as she looks at her friends and colleagues enjoying themselves around her at a party. The desire for children stronger than the desire for sex or a partner, Millie had sought medical assistance for solo artifical insemination. But it wasn’t until the party that the full weight of what she has embarked upon begins to sink in. At the same time, Millie’s friend Toni learns, from her shower-mounted health monitor of all places, that she too is pregnant. Conceived through standard means (the polite way of saying casual sex), the father is a man Toni is sleeping with but not serious about, and she faces some tough choices as a result. The lives begun in these two women spinning beyond the sphere of their corporal influence, Charnock allows the friends and family most closely associated with the two women their views before accelerating to the next generation in Part II of the novel. The choices for alternate parenting only increasing, Millie and Toni’s children face a bevy of options to care for and carry on the species like our ancestors never dreamed.
Indeed, the variety of alternate forms of parenting, the human reaction, and their interaction form the core of Dreams Before the Start of Time. Not an ultra-liberal treatise on how stunted the forms of human reproduction have thus far appeared in human existence (for those concerned), Charnock maintains a grounded, human perspective throughout. For better and worse, the options portrayed remain wide open. It should also be noted the methods described are highly likely to be available in the next half-century, which adds a strong degree of cogency to the narrative. One family, for example, has their first child naturally and the second through remote gestation. The consequences are portrayed, thankfully in subtle form, the advantages and disadvantages both given page time as children birthed through a variety of “unnatural” methods and to a variety of non-standard parent arrangements. Other ideas explored include: female eggs “enseminated” with their own genetic material and sperm being morphed into zygotes capable of producing fetuses are options for women and men who want to be parents without sex or a woman. Co-parenting (an adult who signs a contractual agreement to share parenting duties) is likewise an intriguing idea.
If there are any complaints about the novel, they would have to be the relative flatness of tone. The reader does finish the novel with a mid-level understanding of the human impact of said new reproductive technologies. The viewpoints, even as they shift through time, dig into the human firmament behind the conception (no pun intended), but as a whole do not feel entirely complete. This is not say Charnock should have delved into every little nook and cranny and fully exposed the details hidden there, only that more variety to character and scene would have provided a richer, more consequential experience that might better complement the profundity of the ways in which the options for creating humans have so entirely altered human existence. The novel has some of this gravity, but not the full weight.
A secondary effect of the flatness is that the three periods of time feel very similar. This is not to say there should be rocket cars and robot vacuum cleaners for the future scenes to jump off the page. In fact, I love that Charnock seems to believe that life a century from now will not be radically different than today; this speaks to common sense where a lot of science fiction is pure fantasy. That being said, there is only a minority of elements that distinguish the three eras depicted, which hinders, to a minor degree, the feel for the passage of time.
But don’t take my niggles wrong. I would think Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind remains Charnock’s better novel, but what she has accomplished in Dreams should not be ignored, and in fact, is highly enjoyable and thought provoking in its own right. The willingness to experiment with viewpoint through time, as well as present a human agenda (what little science fiction these days can say that), make the novel very worthwhile—much like Adam Roberts’ Gradisil. Underlining this last statement is the fact that the futuristic technology depicted is extremely likely—in development as we speak—making the novel ground-breaking, at least certainly much more so than the rather fantastical, and therefore less relatable, visions of Joan Slonczewski’s A Door into Ocean.
Most recent customer reviews
2 things stand out to me
- the couples never express love for each other; I don't recall the word being used between any...Read more
I found the concept of this book unusual and fascinating. How would we have our children in the future?Read more