Genesis: A Novel by Bernard Beckett (New York: First Mariner Books, 2010. 150pp)
Bernard Beckett (b. 1967) is a high school teacher in Wellington, New Zealand. He teaches math, drama, and English. He wrote Genesis while researching DNA mutations.
A Doctoral Thesis
I entered a vacant room. A projector glowed, brightly illuminating the tension of the space. In the next fifteen minutes, I watched academics, some of whom I knew, fill the room in quiet anxiety. Then, my friend, a hopeful doctor, entered the room, connected his computer to the projector and nervously waited for three influential professors to ascend their thrones of power. As they entered the room, the one in the middle addressed the crowd, announcing,
“Welcome to the oral portion of the doctoral defense, we will now begin.”
I then watched my friend eloquently, yet nervously, present his dissertation to the panel. All the while, I understood that I would never willingly go through that kind of hell. In Genesis by Bernard Beckett, the protagonist, Anaximander, is presenting her thesis to a panel on the life of Adam Forde and the android Art, whose interactions are crucial to the forming of a new utopian republic after the world collapsed into apocalyptic ruin. Successful completion of said defense gains entry into “The Academy”, the elite governing institution of her perfected society.
“It would be a great honor to be selected, of course, bun Anax was clear that it was not honor that motivated her. To join The Academy was to serve the society. The society she loved. The finest society the planet had ever seen. To join The Academy was to take responsibility for the peace that settled over the shelters, and the laughter that echoed in the streets. The Academy designed the education program. The Academy moderated technology’s march. The Academy managed the balance between the individual and the cause, between the opportunity and the fear. The Academy pored over the details of the past, and learned from each advancement and every mistake. The Academy had met the Idea head on, and negotiated with it a lasting peace” (117).
The Academy exists as the prominent answer to the decline of civilization. The world had become corrupt and inevitably engaged in war over oil, religion, etc. But, during Anax’s examination, she comes to the conclusion that perhaps The Republic isn’t the wonderful utopia she thought it was.
“The Republic, in the end, was a rational response to an irrational problem. To arrest change is to arrest decay. To bury the individual beneath the weight of the state, is to bury too the individual’s fears. It was possible to see what they were trying to do, but easy too to see, from this distance, that no state can ever weigh that heavily. Always, the individual’s fears will wriggle free” (116).
In order to gain admittance into The Academy, Anax presents her thesis on Adam Forde and Art over several grueling hours. She confronts unresolved questions of science and philosophy unexplored by her utopian counterparts. The Republic was formed in order to create a perfect society, but during the course of her examination, Anax begins to find flaws in The Republic, and in the story of Adam Forde.
Android versus Human
Through her examination, Anaximander describes the interactions between Forde and Art, retelling the history with careful deliberate words. Anax exposes new and cohesive ideas on both Forde and Art, which consistently surprise her panel.
“I am saying only that Adam believes he should follow his head, I do not however believe he can. This is the second element. We see here the battle that every person faces. For while he may reason one way, he is still victim to his emotions” (86).
Anax tells that as Art and Forde get to know each other, their conversations become deeper, and Art grows far more intelligent than expected. In conversation, they tried to distinguish human from machine, from organic thought to robotic thought. As Art tells Forde (read from a transcript),
“I don’t know what it means to be conscious. You have stripped me of that certainty. I find, having you as my only companion, I am drawn toward treating you as if you are as conscious as I am, but perhaps this is nothing more than a prisoner’s kind of madness” (128).