Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 20, 2009
Genres: Dystopia, Science Fiction, Young Adult
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Anax thinks she knows history. Her grueling all-day Examination has just begun, and if she passes, she’ll be admitted into the Academy—the elite governing institution of her utopian society. But Anax is about to discover that for all her learning, the history she’s been taught isn’t the whole story. And the Academy isn’t what she believes it to be. In this brilliant novel of dazzling ingenuity, Anax’s examination leads us into a future where we are confronted with unresolved questions raised by science and philosophy. Centuries old, these questions have gained new urgency in the face of rapidly developing technology. What is consciousness? What makes us human? If artificial intelligence were developed to a high enough capability, what special status could humanity still claim? Outstanding and original, Beckett’s dramatic narrative comes to a shocking conclusion.
In Genesis we learn about the society’s history as told through budding historian Anax’s eyes as she completes a four hour oral exam. But as Anax continues on in her exam she learns that what she thinks she knows isn’t the whole story.
This is labelled as a Young Adult novel, but for all that it’s a very short novel at only 150 pages, I don’t think I would have considered it to be intended for teenagers. Anax is a teenage girl, of course, but the subject matter of the novel is not what I would expect a teenager to read.
Genesis is full of philosophical discussions that pose questions on whether the idea or the mind came first (“They arrived together. The mind is an idea.”), that suggest how ideas can change and how the world can be influenced by this rogue ideas. There are some darker themes and aspects to the book than I would have expected, even with it being set in a dystopian/post-apocalyptic world.
The format for the story, though, was different and unique. Having the story itself be told as an exam lent itself well to the logical and well thought out approach that Beckett achieved so well. While I didn’t find myself emotionally invested in the book as much as I would have expected, I was intrigued and caught up in the debates that occurred throughout the course of both the exam and the history of the society.
But, let’s be honest, what I most loved about this book was that the ending was unexpected. A lot of authors try to surprise the readers, and the shock ending tends to be overdone. In this case, it was quietly done, the hints were there they were just so subtle that it took getting to the end for it all to build together and create a surprise ending. And between the ending and the philosophical questions, this is a book that makes you think.