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Genesis Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 20, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 196 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, April 20, 2009
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, April 2009: If robots began to self-evolve, learning to feel and create as we do, what traits would set humans apart--and help us survive? Beckett isn't the first to dramatize this question, and his Genesis pays subtle homage to his predecessors (including Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Philip K. Dick). But his near-future tale feels unique, and oddly credible. As the young historian Anax endures an examination by the Academy--an order of philosopher-rulers as imagined in Plato's Republic--we're brought up quickly on a catastrophic backstory: accelerating climate change, dust storms, rising fear and fundamentalism, the Last War, and the rise of a new Plato, who builds an island republic and seals it behind a Great Sea Fence. Plagues decimate human populations outside, while the Republic's surveillance society (thick with shadows of Huxley, Atwood, and Moore) flourishes under the Orwellian motto "Forward towards the past"--until it falls to forces led by the young rebel Adam Forde. The Academy interrogates Anax on Adam's period of imprisonment with the most advanced android of his time, and we witness their vicious sparring on the virtues of men and machines, the nature of consciousness, and what gives any life worth. It may not sound gripping, but Genesis reads like a thriller to the last word, propelled by the power of ideas longing to be unleashed. --Mari Malcolm

Amazon Exclusive: An Essay by Bernard Beckett, Author of Genesis

When I tire of my computer it's considered quite acceptable, environmental issues aside, for me to bin it, bury it, or rip out its innards and convert the shell into a fish bowl. It is considered less acceptable for me to do any of these things to my still functioning cat. And that feels much as it should be.

Yet my computer routinely beats me at chess, while my cat struggles to use a cat door. Whatever we believe sets the animal apart from the machine, with each passing year it becomes harder to believe that processing power is the defining factor. And that's the apparently harmless thought at the heart of Genesis.

Our instincts cling to the mysticism of the life force, the élan vital that appears to animate the world of creatures and separate them from our machines. Instincts though are rarely enough. The modern understanding of evolution makes it easy to view life as little more (or less) than a trick of chemistry, and the harmless question takes on an edge.

The novelist though mustn't be content with simply exposing the edge. I am drawn to stories that tear at me. I like my reading to leave a little scar tissue and I aspire to create stories that might do the same. Just as we are sure that cats and computers are not just different things, but different kinds of things, so we quite naturally draw a line between a cat and human that feels inviolable. The life force may no longer be so puzzling, but surely the mystery of consciousness remains secure. Not everybody thinks so, and that provides the gap into which a story can be wedged.

This thought spent a good few years trapped inside my own consciousness. I knew that at the heart of the novel would sit a confrontation between a man and a machine. I knew humanity would be represented by a criminal, imprisoned both by the justice system and his own inflexible beliefs. I also knew the machine would be charming, irascible and provocative. What I didn't know was anything about the story in which this central conceit would be wrapped. I wrote a short play in which the prisoner was a psychopath and spent a couple of years trying on and off to develop that into a novel but it never worked. I needed a trick that would position the audience first with the human and then somehow twist that loyalty, ideally without them realising it was happening.

As is so often the case I didn't get to the final product small step at a time. Rather I tried, failed and turned away. And then, a couple of years later while distracting myself from another task I found the problem had solved itself offstage. Such are the strange workings of the mind.

(Photo © Bruce Foster)

From Publishers Weekly

Anax, the dedicated student historian at the center of Beckett's brutal dystopian novel, lives far in the future—the distant past events of the 21st century are taught in classrooms. The world of that era, we learn, was ravaged by plague and decay, the legacy of the Last War. Only the island Republic, situated near the bottom of the globe, remained stable and ordered, but at the cost of personal freedom. Anax, hoping her scholarly achievements will gain her entrance to the Academy, which rules her society, has extensively studied Adam Forde, a brilliant and rebellious citizen of the Republic who fought for human dignity in the midst of a regimented, sterile society. To join the Academy's ranks, Anax undergoes a test before three examiners, and as the examination progresses, it becomes clear that her interpretations of Adam's life defy conventional thought and there may be more to Adam—and the Academy—than she had imagined. Though the trappings of Beckett's dystopian society feel perhaps too Brave New World, the rigorous narrative and crushing final twist bring a welcome freshness to a familiar setup. (Apr.)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 150 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (April 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547225490
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (196 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,557,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I hate paying more than $10 dollars for a book. But I walked into Borders, saw this book sitting there, opened to the first page, and two minutes later I was out $20 dollars and happier than ever. From there I proceeded to read the book over a two day period, very dismayed every time real life asked me to put it down. Then I finished it. You should also know I also hate writing reviews on amazon (everyone else does such a good job, it's very intimidating). But this book was so good I felt like it'd be tantamount to sin not to go online and spend a few minutes giving it five stars and trying to convince the masses of their need to read it as well.

Not only is the quality of prose superb, but the style is elegant and the ideas hidden in the plot are both important and intelligent. I noticed another reviewer saying that the final plot twist was "out of the blue and not well built-up." That's generally one of my pet peeves when it comes to movies and novels, but fortunately for us, this book was not guilty of such a crime. I saw the elements leading up to the conclusion start appearing very early on and although I was happily surprised with the end, it all made perfect sense and fit nicely with the theories I'd had simmering in the back of my mind since before halfway through the book. It's not a very long book, so it deserves your attention as you read through the relatively small number of pages it asks of you.

All I can really say is that I really really liked this book. I'm not the pickiest of readers, but I do consider myself well read both in the sci-fi arena and in the literature of several countries. Still, I'd put this book among the best I've ever read. I feel like the ideas, plot, and prose are all individually good enough to merit a reading of a book this length, and together are so brilliant as to make not reading it nothing short of inexcusable laziness. You should really read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
This small book is inherently provocative as it plunges into the distant future, 2075, when the world as we know it has finally spiraled into paranoia and endless wars in an orgy of self-destruction. Even for the common good, countries have been unable to overcome their mutual distrust. The result is The Republic, an area separated from a disintegrating world by a great sea wall, intruders scarce after years of war and plague outside the barrier. The structured society of the Republic is based on a careful alignment of working principles, a combination of science and technology, four distinct classes meeting the needs of a secure environment: Laborers, Soldiers, Technicians and Philosophers.

In Genesis, Anaximander stands before a panel of examiners, applying for a place in the Academy that requires a four-hour oral question and answer session. Three years of intensive study with a mentor have brought Anax to this moment. Grilled by her impassive inquisitors, Anax recites her extensive knowledge of the history of the Republic, the evolution of her chosen subject and her careful dissection of the relevance of this subject to the formation of society. Anax's chosen topic is the subject of myth, a critical part of society's evolution.. Intimidated by the three examiners, Anax is nevertheless confident, replying to the questions with quiet authority.

Anax posits her theories through recorded dialog, focusing the distinctions between humanity and technology and the philosophy of man vs. machine, man's inherent superiority despite the advances of science and technology. In a brilliant exchange of ideas, logic dominates the discussion, with flashes of passion, even hubris.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Wow. What an interesting and unusual short novel!

To me, this has something of the feel of a classic early Isaac Asimov story (but with far more modern assumptions, challenges, and true emotional resonance). It is real, hard-core science fiction, a new and very original imagining of the future.

At less than 150 pages, this novel is short enough to encourage the reader to persist; the structure of the novel helps, too (it is divided into the 4 hours of Anax's "examination", with intermissions in the form of "breaks" she is given between hours). Still, this is an intellectually demanding book-- the reader has to pay attention and think about each paragraph.

I particularly valued one aspect of this book: it is almost unique in combining both deep emotional awareness and very complex ideas about ethics, philosophy, and technology.

******* A caution: this book will be absolutely wrecked by any spoilers. If you sense once coming in another review, stop reading! The twist in the final portion of this book is the essence of the book, and it would be soooooooooo sad if the reader knew it was coming in advance.

Overall, an absorbing, not-light, orginal, complex, fascinating, and emotionally engaging novel, written by a scientist who is clearly a passionate person who cares deeply about the dilemmas humanity faces. If you can appreciate a very unique story-telling style and unique imagining of the future you will enjoy "Genesis". (And as an aside, the original hardcover edition of the book has a brilliant cover-- provides clues to the puzzle of the book.)
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