Beggars in Spain • 1991 • Near Future SF novella by Nancy Kress


The novella is the first of four parts, set in the USA of 2010. The novel continues with the second part titled “Sanctuary” in 2051, the third part “Dreamer” in 2075 and the fourth part “Beggar” in 2091.
The premise is easy: Pre-natal genetics modify humans to look beautiful, be smart and most important eliminate the need for sleep. This “Sleepless” minority needs less place (no more beds!) and they are a third more productive time (no sleep, no tiredness!) and thus they are elite achievers.
A second important innovation is the ubiquituous availabilty of cost-free “Y”-energy (it isn’t explained but could be thought of local fusion generators).
Philosophy plays an important role as well in the form of “Yagaiism” – only what a person can achieve through her own efforts does count, the weak and unproductive “Beggars in Spain” are not owed anything. This moral code is based on Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. It contrasts Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed: All men are not created equal!

I found the novella to be a page-turner – characters and story-flow were great – especially the coming-of-age story-contrast of the sleepless vs. sleeping sisters were awesome. Sometimes, the philosophical discussions were a little bit preachy and lengthy but it was ok for me that Kress wants to transport a message.

It is interesting, how this two decades old story playing in our current time feels like science fiction and dated at the same time: Nowadays we have no datanet but WWW and it isn’t safe but NSAed. Well, I had a web server installed in 1990 but couldn’t dream the revolutionizing force of twitter, then 🙂
Energy nowadays is more expensive than ever, Y-energy far away. Communication is over mobile phones. And we don’t have the knowledge to manipulate hair or eye-color genetically.

The rest of the novel starts from these basics. It looses novella’s sharp and stringent clarity a little bit but brings in great new ideas and situations that I find it very worth reading.

The sleepless didn’t manage to rule the earth but are a minority. The majority of humanity doesn’t invest into sleeplessness anymore. There is lots of resentment and hatred, even segregation. They build an orbital station and work towards independence from the U.S. In the end, they bring up additional genetic modifications which lead to hyperintelligent “Super-Sleepless” children.

The novella is worth 5 stars, the rest of the novel was not as excellent but I’ll give it 4 stars.

Meta: isfdb. This Near Future SF novella appeared 1991 and was included in the novel with the same name. It won Hugo, Nebula and other Awards in 1992. I’ve reread it in 2021.

This entry was posted in Story. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s