Genesis by Bernard Beckett, just released in North America in April of 2009, is one of my favourite reads this year. Clamouring for more, I e-mail- and google-hunted Mr. Beckett down with the burning questions that would not let me rest; “what, why, what, when, what, what?”. It is in the same state of cerebral delight that I read his answers to my fangirl questions. And with a few surprises, namely a confession that he’s not much of a sci-fi reader! I think that after writing a book like Genesis you get one of those honorary degrees in Scifi readership.
I would also like to give away my copy of Genesis to a lucky draw winner. I want to share this book with a new reader. So please leave your name or your name and a comment in the comments portion of this post and consider yourself entered in the draw (I’m sorry to say that this draw is only open to those living in the Tri-City area who are able to bodily pick up their copy of Genesis at Words Worth Books. Non-local people will have future opportunities to win other titles that I will personally ship to them; keep posted for more).
(Mandy)When describing Genesis I have compared it with Brave New World, We, and 1984 by its classic, sophisticated story. Do you consider Genesis science fiction or dystopian literature? Are you a reader of SciFi?
(Bernard Beckett) I'm not much of a sci-fi reader, although that may well change. Certainly having Genesis published has opened my eyes to a very rich vein of literature which I've been largely ignorant of. For me Genesis is not primarily a dystopian novel, although I can see why people might read it that way. The futuristic environment is really a vehicle to get to the thing I most wanted to write about, which was the relationship between Adam and Art, and what that might do to the reader's notions of what we mean when we speak of consciousness.
The entire story happens during a 5 hour test. This is what caught my attention when I was given an advanced reading copy; the structure stands out as unique and with great potential to induce a sense of anxiety. How did the story’s structure come to you? Was the anxiety induced in the reader intentional?
This one is interesting, in that I had the basic idea for Adam and Art maybe three years before I wrote Genesis but I could never find a satisfactory way into the story. perhaps thanks to my ignorance of sci-fi, I found it hard to handle the information dump, and setting up the alternative world became cumbersome and ultimately boring. The examination was initially a way around that, although as it progressed I realised that it did have the potential you have noticed, which is to build our own sense of anxiety. Because the first character we meet is Anaximander, there is a natural tendency for us to see her as our protagonist. The question then is what does she want, and why should we care? Having her facing a high stakes examination was a way of the reader identifying with her, just by giving her something to struggle against. And of course, by the end we see that this identification was a form of trickery, designed to reinforce this basic question of how it is we come to attribute consciousness to others.
You have “fleshed” out the character of Art so exactly. Do you have a soft spot for robots? Any robots come to mind? What is the fictional potential of robots for you?
I think the potential here is to use them as a mirror of sorts. Often it requires an outside perspective before we can gaze upon ourselves with any clarity. So the potential of a charming robot in this story is to force us to ask ourselves, why do we attribute value to other people, to animals or even machines? Is it just arbitrary? After all history shows periods where slaves for example, or women in many cases, were treated in ways that today seem scarcely believable. The way we still treat those who are outside our immediate circle, those struggling to survive in a distant continent for instance, may in a more enlightened future appear barbaric. But how far can our sphere of extend practically extend, and what defines the boundaries? A robot with clearly human characteristics is a way into that discussion.
Did you have a teen audience in mind when you wrote Genesis? Did it affect how you wrote the book or even what you wrote into it?
I did have a teen audience in mind, and I think the main impact is on my own confidence as a writer. I feel when writing for teenagers that maybe I can stretch the ideas a little further, be more speculative and provocative. When writing for adults for some reason I feel more constrained, I think it's a self-consciousness of sorts, a fear of being caught out by those readers who are far smarter than I am. That said, the final product is a book for adults as much as it is for teens. As a school teacher I always remind people that the smartest teenagers are far smarter than the majority of we older folk, so there should be a lot of crossover in reading material.
I found the ending dark but satisfying. Is there hope at the end? Does there have to be?
Because it's not a book about the way I think the future is going to play out, the ending is not that dark to me. it shouldn't even be read as a warning, in the style of Brave New World for instance. Rather it's a speculation, about how the advance of technology has the potential to redefine the human spirit, and the end punch in the book is more of a narrative trick than a statement about my world view.
And finally, after writing Genesis, IS the soul more than the hum of its parts?
Yes, for me it is. But that extra is self-created I think. I don't subscribe to some sort of Platonic mysticism, where people believe there is this extra essence that comes form without. Rather I think through a slow process of evolution, both biological and cultural, we have lifted ourselves above the status of animal or machine, that the thing that makes us more than a hum is the ideas we have given shape to. This view to me is an uplifting one, for it reminds us of the wonderful, fragile potential at the heart of human existence, and also the awesome responsibility of maintaining it, through honest and generous engagement with the world we inhabit. Which is why I love teaching, because it's about that crucial process of keeping our ideas, and so our souls, alive.
Read a review of Genesis:
Genesis by Bernard Beckett