Geoff Ryman’s The Child Garden is an exceptionally literate science-fiction novel. Within the framework of a future in which the human life span has been disastrously reduced by bioengineered attempts to make people disease free and intellectually equal, it raises issues of sexuality, creativity, consciousness, and social responsibility. It contains philosophically complex yet surprisingly entertaining arguments about the relationship between good government and tyranny as well as society’s responsibilities to its less fortunate members. It argues that equality cannot occur by suppressing a person’s unique and individual soul, even if that person carries characteristics considered to be “deviant” within the fabric of society. Such suppression results in losses to the culture far in excess of the gains.
Ryman passionately argues that it is up to individuals to take responsibility for themselves, for the underprivileged, and for making sure that the government becomes compassionate and just. He forces his main character, Milena, not only to take on these responsibilities but also to embrace all the diverse, childlike, and even unattractive parts of herself. The message is that before people can be expected to accept, much less love, the rest of flawed humanity they must learn to accept themselves.
Ryman won the 1990 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for The Child Garden. His first major success was the novella The...
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