Arthur Chappell

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BOOK REVIEW – GEOFF RYMAN – THE CHILD GARDEN 1989 Science Fiction Masterworks #61 Gollancz

A brilliant look at a future London, in a world where ideas have become viruses and diseases, contaminating all, giving everyone equal knowledge, but stripping humanity of creativity and a sense of art. Everything  is now genetic, a house, a city, even spacecraft.

One young lady, Milena,  seems to be immune, though she fears being forced by the governing and mysterious Consensus, into receiving the viruses. Worse, she has strong lesbian impulses, and the viruses have cured every one of such longings, so she seems very much alone.

Milena, works as an actress, but to many, she is not a good one, as she has to learn the Shakespearean roles she takes on. They fail to see that this gives her performances a creative edge.

One day, Milena meets Rolfa, a human who has been genetically crossed with a polar bear to give her its advantages in polar exploration. The bear has avoided readings and retains the ability to create. She has been composing a mammoth opera based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. 

When despair and being read by the Consensus drives Rolfa away, Milena takes on the opera, planning to present it to the whole World from Space in giant holographic projections.

Pursued by a jealous fellow actress, and a lovesick, if impotent astronaut, Milena, gives the World back its humanity. Even the children’s mind collective hive that is the Consensus seems to see in her what it misses.  She becomes a reluctant saviour. The human bees buzz round her. A human dog becomes her friend, and in a World where people mostly survive through photosynthesis and die in their thirties, Milena, becomes the last cancer patient. 

Cancer has been cured, and those already suffering from it are virtually immortal, but   Milena, refuses to be cured. Will she find love, and complete her opus opera before her death? Such is the theme of this modern classic of science fiction – a book very deserving of a place in the Masterworks series.

Copyright. Arthur Chappell                                                        

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