I present for your consideration this 150 page work by Bernard Beckett. While we might expect a story framed as a four-hour thesis presentation would be dry, the use of historical reinactments as well as the integration of personal memories and thoughts of Anax, the lead charcter, give it an unexpected liveliness. Thus, though it occasionally has the feel of a Socratic dialogue, it is a surprisingly quick read.
Anax is applying to The Academy, and her thesis project is on Adam Forde, one of the key historical figures in the Republic, an island nation founded and isolated behind a sea wall while the rest of the world went through climate change and infighting.
“EXAMINER: Define spirit.
The Examiner’s voice was carefully modulated, the sort of effect that could be achieved with the cheapest of filters. Only it wasn’t technology that Anax heard; it was control, pure and simple. Ever pause, every flickering of uncertainty: the Examiners observed them all. This, surely, was how they decided. Anax felt suddenly slow and unimpressive. She could still hear Pericles’ last words. “They want to see how you will respond to the challenge. Don’t hesitate. Talk your way toward understanding. Trust the words.” And back then it had seemed so simple…
ANAXIMANDER: By spirit I mean to say something about the prevailing mood of the time. Human spirit is the ability to face the uncertainty of the future with curiosity and optimism. It is the belief that problems can be solved, differences resolved. It is a type of confidence. And it is fragile. It can be blackened by fear, and superstition. By the year 2050, when the conflict began, the world had fallen upon fearful, superstitious times.”
I present to you a novel of ideas, and like a novel geared towards the young and new adult reader, some of the ideas are intriguing in presentation but ultimately, lack both subtlety of thought and depth of discussion. I posit the somewhat heretical view that Beckett becomes constrained by format and that his desire for a surprise ending limits what can be achieved.
The history of the Republic apparently hinges on an AI learning through interaction with Adam. For me, that was a major stop point when I first read it. Like the teenagers who venture into the basement in a horror movie, there was no good rationale politically, so I felt very conscious of either a deus ex machina or a complicated political rationale that did not square with Anax’s presentaiton.
Still, once I accepted this shockingly illogical construction, the rest of the book flowed smoothly. I appreciated the discussion of ideas, and while I had anticipated this might be the tinest sleep-inducing novel, it wasn’t in the least. I think that, as much as anything, demonstrates how surface level the points raised were–let us call it Overview of Philosophy. That isn’t a complaint, mind you; it’s a statement meant to provide illumination for potential readers.
As a final note, I’ll say that unlike others, I disliked the ending. I felt like it was trickery over story/world congruity. Still, an otherwise enjoyable, mildly thought-provoking read.