Read This: Genesis by Bernard Beckett

Genesis by Bernard Beckett (2005)

One sentence summary: A doctoral candidate undergoes an oral examination during which she recounts and interprets seminal events from the history of her Republic in this spare, electrifying story that is philosophical exploration and science-fiction story wrapped into one.

First off, I am not convinced this is actually a young adult book, rather than just a book featuring a protagonist who is a young adult. I am inclined to lean more towards “Adult book that certain young adults would enjoy,” rather than my usual category of reading, “Young adult book that certain adults would enjoy.” But I suppose it’s all just semantics, yes?

On to the book itself. What I am left with after reading all 150 pages of Genesis is a very particular, and wonderful, set of feelings. Have you read the Foundation books by Isaac Asimov? In those great works of classic science fiction (also fairly short by modern standards) the characters aren’t the important part, and neither, really, is the plot. These elements are in service to something greater, they are pieces in a grand design that aims to expose and examine the underpinnings of human nature itself. I am definitely no philosopher, but I am human. So for me, the best philosophy book doesn’t just try to engage with my mind, making its case in a bald, intellectual fashion that my own intellect will analyze and measure against my own life experiences. Books like Foundation and Genesis use their stories and their characters and their plots to actually evoke the feelings and experiences they wish us to think about. They take us through their case in a way that lets us live it ourselves.

Genesis is an engaging little story, as well. It moves along briskly and compellingly despite the unusual format (the book takes place entirely within the Socratic-style question and answer form of the student’s oral examination). It is very unlike the kind of books I usually read, but at such a brief length it was a pleasure to put aside teen angst and heroic fantasy for a while and let these subtle thoughts and emotions bloom within me through Beckett’s careful cultivation.

Read more about Genesis:
*If you have already decided you’d like to read the book, I think it’s best to jump in with as little information as possible. There are some really great elements to the book that it would be a shame to have spoiled. But if you aren’t convinced and want to know more, or don’t want to read the book at all but would like to know more about it, here are some other good reviews that at least don’t give away anything too big.*

Very interesting, short nearly spoiler-free review on The SF Site. (Spoiler reveals one relatively insignificant plot point.)

Review comparing Beckett to Philip K. Dick, another of the great sci-fi philosophers. Review contains thorough information about the history/backstory that takes a good 30 or 40 pages to be revealed in the book, so I consider this to be a significant spoiler, but it doesn’t give away much about the rest of the book.

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