If one beggar comes up to you and asks for one dollar, you can give it to him and feel rather pleased with yourself for your generosity. If one hundred beggars ask for one dollar each, the picture changes. Do they deserve the money? Is it your duty to give something to every one? Is what you give your extra, or your substance?
Leisha Camden is grappling with these questions. One of a handful of experimental babies whose genes were altered so that she will need no sleep, ever, she is unique among the anomalous few in that she has a twin - a “sleeper,” whose limitations provide a counterpoint for Leisha’s extraordinary gifts.
Those who don’t sleep have more time, time to study and excel, time to plot and scheme. Looked upon by society at large as freaks, they look on the sleepers as inferior. Not only do they have all the time in the world, they won’t age. So the longer they stay around, the less popular they become, until isolation leads to hostility leads to all out war.
Nancy Kress, author of Brainrose, has crafted a straight-forward what-if novel that will thrill the lovers of women’s fiction and the sci-fi genre. In fact it seems that women are taking over the sci-fi/fantasy scene and using it to glorify the strengths that make women equal players in the universe of possibility.
Her heroine is a religio-legal specialist who believes that, despite everything, sleepers are really good at heart. Her father inculcated her in a fascinating social order known as Yagaiism, based on the rules of international trade. Leisha got the Yagaiist picture by the time she was four. Her normal, average sister is her best friend despite their unfairly different treatment as children (Alice declares, “Whatever was yours was yours, and whatever wasn’t yours was yours, too”). As she grows up, Leisha learns how to be real and really generous.
Getting to know Alice gives Leisha a sense of balance that her fellow non-sleepers don’t have. While the others are creating their own literal world and dissing the sleeping planet, Leisha is mulling over moral questions and trying to remain tolerant. In the end, the “old” Leisha, still fit and attractive in her seventies, concludes, “It wasn’t sleeplessness that caused all the rioting; it was thought and its twin consequences, change and challenge.”