by Bernard Beckett

The opening pages of Genesis require a certain level of determination to get through – punchy, easily digestible divisions between light and dark aren’t to be found here. No, the start of this novella has more akin to those geopolitical diatribes you find at the beginning of almost every piece of mecha anime. You know the kind of thing; inherent instabilities in society lead to global conflict, one corporation comes to the fore and sets up an easily defensible republic on an island in the South Pacific. So far, so ‘expecting the giant robots any second’.

      Interestingly, though, that’s not the direction Genesis adopts as all the action takes place during Anaximander’s five hour admission interview. It’s a challenging stylistic choice that does, eventually, settle into something less didactic.

      The specialised subject of our student heroine is the life of Adam Forde – a young soldier who rebels against the said Republic by allowing an outsider into its walled enclave. His subsequent arrest and public trial divides social opinion and a solution is required that doesn’t involve a catastrophic myartadom.

      It’s in this that the first of a series of twists appears. Instead of a summary execution, Adam is forced to act as mental stimulant for a robot AI project called Art – think WALL-E with an orangutan’s face. Not so great a punishment you might imagine, until you pick up on the fact that Art’s predecessor killed a classroom of kids. From hereon the book concentrates on the central philosophical argument about the differences between human and machine sentience. But even here, in such dense theoretical territory, Beckett holds the reader with some excellent characterisation until the closing trio of twists strike with an unforgettable resonance.

      As with all births, this novella is anything but immaculate – littered as it with self conscious references to classical literature. But it’s the book’s closing that redeems all irksome flaws, leaving you with a pleasant thrill of surprise and a sense that you really have witnessed the advent of something original.