Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Children of Men... The Review

Well, I finished the book. And…. Dramatic pause… it was OK. It wasn’t the worst I have ever read (Kite Runner or Love in the Time of Cholera) but it wasn’t the best either.

In general, some of the best stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. These stories can be adventurous, in which one spectacular event leads to another, as in “The DaVinci Code”. Or they can show how extreme environments effect people such as The Road by Cormac Mccarthy. In the case of post apocalyptic fiction, it is almost always how the environment affects people. The books attempts to be both of these kind of stories and it doesn’t quite work.

The book has two parts, aptly names Omega and Alpha. Omega, the first half of the book, deals with Theo, the narrator, as he starts a diary to document the end of his life and the end of mankind.

As a general rule, I am not a character study person but this is one of the rare exceptions. If you are unfamiliar with the premise, all men in the world went sterile and no children have been born for 25 years. With the absence of children, mankind in coming to grips with the fact that it will soon be extinct.

I can’t say a tremendous amount occurred in the first 100 plus pages but it was thoroughly entertaining. I liken the first half to George Orwell’s 1984. Not a lot happens but the details that describe the world are fascinating. The smallest details about how life is lead and how it differs from out current life provide a treasure trove of details.

Besides the diary, Theo encounters a group of radicals that want a series of social “injustices” corrected. Apparently, the world does not run as smoothly as Theo believes. All criminals have exported to an island where they engage in extreme Lord of the Flies activities. In addition, there is an assisted suicide program for the elderly that isn’t always voluntary and some other minor issues. Based upon their recommendation, Theo meets with the Warden of England, who has replaced the parliament as the ruling body. This section was handled well because Theo was able to describe every day life, the radicals were able to describe the world outside of Theo’s sheltered existence, and the encounter with the Warden accurately described the resulting political system. This section tends to be a tidy little package.

Finally, the story really makes it clear how important children are and not just for the continuation of the species. As a comic collector, I know one of the things I look forward to is sharing my books with my children. Would I enjoy my books as much if I knew I couldn’t share them or they would never be appreciated? The impact upon the younger generation is also interesting. What happens to all the little girls that grow up but can never have children?

The second half of the book, Alpha, deals with Theo when he discovers that one of the radicals is pregnant. At this point the author attempts to make the book an adventure novel as the group attempts to evade capture by the government. Having read too many “gotta get to safety” books this didn’t stand up very well. There are some tense encounters but there is no real threat. The band doesn’t want to be captured by the government because they don’t want to be pawns in a political power struggle. The mother wants the birth to be free of what she considers evil, in this case, the Warden of England. OH GAG ME! I think the problem is the results from a sudden love triangle and the fact is, they aren’t going to escape the government. I found it trite and hokey.

Overall, the book is well written and is a challenging read. It used complex sentence structure and words that aren’t all the common. The fact that you had to concentrate to read the book and pay attention was a plus. As I said before, it’s not beach reading or speed reading material. It’s meant to be enjoyed. Overall, read the first 130 pages and return the book to the library.

AND, speaking of apocalyptic fiction, The Road by Cormac Mccarthy, is a far better, if infinitely more depressing read. The premise of this book is simple, a father and son travel a road trying to reach the ocean. The problem is that thru some unexplained event, the world has been burned to a crisp. The sky is always cloudy and the nights are pitch black, ash covers everything, all the trees are burned, and almost everything is destroyed. It is within this environment that the father and son (their names are never given) must travel. Along the way they encounter other travelers, bands of roving cannibals, and general starvation.

The book is written in simple language, as if the father were presenting an oral history. This makes the book read very quickly. The problem is an overwhelming sense of doom that is almost palpable in the book. The good events that occur, and there are some, are juxtaposed between equally horrific and tragic events. You quickly become attached to the characters and because of this I found it difficult at times to read the book because of that sense of doom. I wasn't ready to have more bad, but realistic, things happen to them. But, once I did start reading, I found it difficult to put down.

The book ends in an excellent way that is both moving and tragic all at the same time. A recommended read but not if your looking for a good laugh or uplifting book.


  1. Lee - Nice review. Sounds like the movie gave me all I need of the story.

    I find that I have read very few books without pictures lately, but I have been stuck on Greg Iles thriller novels and a lot of non-fiction.

    Still The Road sounds very interesting.

  2. Jim-

    The road was good and could be considered amazing for the simplicity of it all. Almost all descriptions involves trees burnt, and various forms of destruction.

    I will say that it can be considered a horror novel because when the father/son encounter bad things.. well things are really bad.

    The best that I read prior to that was "Cold Skin"... translated from Spanish. AWESOME. ~150-200 pages, I read it in 3 days. Simply, man goes to deserted island outside of antartic circle. All alone for 1 year until boat comes back to get him. The first night, VERY FIRST NIGHT, that would be page 15, a hoard of critters come out of the ocean and attack his house. If you have ever read "I am Legend" by Matheson, it's up there with that. Fantastic "man slowly goes nuts" story.

  3. Read I am Legend a long time ago, but my rememberance is that it was a really good book.

    Sounds like good summer reading with those two books.

    I enjoy reading on my deck when it is a sunny day and the non pictured books are best for that in my mind.