Beggars in Spain (Nancy Kress, 1991)


Beggars in Spain, by Nancy Kress (1991 novella).

Score: Good.

There are two different versions of Beggars in Spain, the novella, which is shorter and won the Hugo and Nebula awards, and a longer novel version which didn’t and I plan to read and review further on. You will have to tell them apart by the year of publishing (1991 and 1993) and the number of pages (100 and 400).

This is the story of Leisha Camden, a genetically modified person who is the 21st person ever to be modified to not needing any sleep. She has a sister who is not genetically modified and next to her she looks… mediocre. Because the Sleepless, apart from having extra time for work and study which is not taken up by sleep, are intrinsically more intelligent than Sleepers. Obviously, tragedy ensues.

The book is quite easy to read and has a telegraphic style. It describes very briefly and in not a lot of detail the story, which spans over decades in just a hundred pages. It’s John Doe did this and that and a few years later this and this happened. The secondary characters are not that fleshed out, in fact I tended to get them mixed up because pages or even just lines are not devoted to actually help you remember what makes them different from each other. Give this to a R.R. Martin or a Stephenson and you get a 400-page-long manuscript out of exactly the same plot. But it was an enjoyable read anyway.

Also the novel is allegedly based on objectivism, so let’s answer the question: what do we owe the eponymous beggars in Spain? I reached more or less the same conclusion as Leisha. We don’t owe them anything, but being charitable with them is not immoral either, as apparently Ayn Rand thought. You can give them a dollar or not, it’s up to you. Anyway the picture Kress draws is difficult to look at. Some people are better at some things than at others, and everyone has a gift at something, or at least almost everyone. But there are people that are strictly worse than others in the sense that they are less intelligent, healthy, skilled, handy or beautiful than others, and that’s a fact. It’s a very hard fact to accept but at the same time it’s no-one’s fault, not the gifted person’s, not the mediocre one’s. The novel tries to explore this and I think it’s the most interesting thing about it.


At first I thought the hatred and irrational fear of the Sleepless was unrealistic, but then I remembered homophobia is a thing so I bought it all. I want to read the novel version because apparently the story goes on after the moment the novella ends, I want to see where it all goes because this is only the beginning of the story.

Also someone in Amazon decided to compare this with X-Men and it kind of ruined it for me because the themes are so similar and I kept seeing the similarities, so if you liked that you’re probably going to like this, only that there is no superhero theme anywhere.

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