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Customer Review

on June 17, 2004
Often the appeal of science fiction lies in the genre's ability to extrapolate from the trends of the present and project them into the future. One novel exemplifying this tendency is "The Children Of Men" by P.D. James.

In "The Children Of Men", the reader finds a world where the population has become inexplicably infertile and must deal with the stresses of a dwindling population and the psychological angst that results when many realize what's the point of life if it will come to a screeching halt in a scant generation. Such a milieu is explored through the eyes of Oxford Historian Theodore Faron who becomes a reluctant intermediary between a group of bumbling, idealistic revolutionaries and the dictatorial Warden of England who happens to be Theodore's cousin.

The group starts out with the goal of enacting needed reforms such as better treatment of migrant workers known as Sojourners and restoring order to an out-of-control penal colony on the Isle of Man where the inmates --- some not as criminal as the general population is led to believe --- are left to fend for themselves. However, as the story unfolds a matter of greater urgency comes to the forefront of the plot, namely that a couple within the cell has been able to conceive a child.

"The Children Of Men" is not the most riveting example of the dystopian police state novel. It often gets bogged in the details of the personal experiences, emotions, and perceptions of its protagonist Theodore Faron. Yet at times the book provides glimpses into a morally eerie world where the outrages of our own day are allowed to fester to ghastly proportions.

For example, the elderly are encouraged to commit ritualized suicide in a ceremony called the "Quietus", which Theo discovers is not quite so voluntary for those trying to back out at the last minute. Since people no longer have children, they instead lavish their nurturing affections on pets, even having their kittens christened at formalized baptisms. Those born into the last generation are given free reign and little moral instruction --- as such they are self-absorbed to the point of arrogance and even murder.

Of particular interest is the frequent mention of religion made throughout the novel. Two of the revolutionaries are motivated by Christian beliefs. However, others hide behind the cloak of aberrant faith as a scam to enrich themselves personally.

"Roaring Roger" is a fire-and-brimstone televangelist preaching that the global infertility is God's judgment while playing on guilt and fear to finance his own lavish lifestyle. Rosie McClure is more broadminded in her religious views, but so much so her brain roles right out as she preaches a gospel of nonjudgmental hedonism. The Church of England is characterized as "no longer with a common doctrine or common liturgy, [and] so fragmented that there was no knowing what some sects might have come to believe." One just wishes Ms. James had spent as much time in such socio-clerical exposition as she did in embroidering the extraneously tedious background details of Professor Faron's psyche.

The political situation described in "The Children Of Men" serves as a cautionary tale where our own institutions are headed if we are not careful. In most speculative narratives dealing with one form of totalitarianism or the other, the regimes under consideration often lord over the masses with brutality.

In "The Children Of Men", however, the Warden's regime is rather genteel as far as dictatorships go if you happen to be a good little citizen and not to stir up offense. But then again, most of the citizens don't cause much trouble anyway since most have lost interest in political participation and the Warden is careful to maintain illusions of democracy. Of this society very much like our own, one is reminded of Francis Schaeffer's warnings in "A Christian Manifesto" about comfort and affluence becoming the organizing principles in a political system where higher truths such as freedom and self-reliance are increasingly seen as impediments to rather than a necessity of just government and good order.
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