GENESIS Bernard Beckett, Longacre, 144 pages, paperback NZ$18.99. ISBN 1-877361-52-6
With Genesis Bernard Beckett has excelled himself. In a grim future of biological war and plague, New Zealand has sealed its borders and armed sentries wipe out all approaching refugees to protect their ideal society. This novel is set decades later as Anaximander, a young history student, faces her final Academy entrance exam, on the life of a sentry who controversially broke his trust. Three Examiners question her for five hours about her topic, ‘The life and times of Adam Forde, 2058 - 2077’. It is a tribute to Beckett’s skill as a writer that while the story is told almost entirely in a question-and-answer format, it is always tense and exciting.
It soon becomes clear that Adam’s involvement with the education process of robots raises all sorts of issues about morality, justice, artificial intelligence, thought experiments and what it means to be human. It is also clear that Adam (“the match that lit the fire”) was responsible for some radical change in society but only hints are given. Then just as the Examiners reveal a hidden truth to Anaximander, readers realise that they have also been misled and are taking part in a thought experiment. This powerful and moving novel will open many doors for able readers.
This review was first published in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand on 17th March 2007.