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The Children of Men

The Children of Men - P.D. James Ugh! I don't like the cover of this book (the one showing on this page). Don't get me wrong, I like Clive Owen, and the 2006 movie is not too shabby but it does not have much to do with the original text apart from the basic premise; and Theo the protagonist of the movie is the polar opposite of the novel’s character. The author P.D. James is best known for her crime fiction novels mostly featuring defective detective Adam Dalgliesh who is also a poet. I have only read a couple of these Dalgliesh books and never really cared for them. A “poet-detective” just seems too pretentious and unappealing to me. When I heard that they were filming Children of Men I was intrigued though, I did not expect Ms. James to write a science fiction book worth filming, I thought she was one of those mainstream authors who just want to take a stab at sci-fi without really understanding the genre. Anyway, I first read Children of Men in 2006 shortly before the movie was released because I prefer to read the original source material before watching the movie. I owe P.D. James an apology, she did a stupendous job. That said this book is more “speculative fiction” than sci-fi because there is very little science in it. It is more of a thought experiment where the author explores the social any individual implications of the basic premise, the sort of thing [a: Ursula K. Le Guin|874602|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1244291425p2/874602.jpg] excels in.

Children of Men can reasonably be labeled as a cozy apocalypse or even a cozy dystopia. It has a high concept premise where in the year 1995* women all over the world suddenly became infertile. As extinction events go this is a very polite one, but quite alarming when you consider the implication. Imagine the human race slowly winding down with a global aging and declining population. In the UK where the novel is set this leads to general despair and ennui in the middle aged and older age groups and uncontrollable wildness in the youngest generation. The year 1995 is called Omega, and the people born in 1995 are called “Omegas”. These Omegas are generally wild and literally allowed to get away with murder because they may be the last hope for mankind's continuation.

The event of the novel itself takes place in 2021, 26 years after the year of Omega. The protagonist is called Theo Faron, a disillusioned English gentleman who happens to be related to the Warden of England, a position of supreme power, far in excess of the office of Prime Minister or the President. He used to be a close adviser to the Warden until the day he up and left because he could not stomach the abuses of power. At the beginning of the novel he basically spends all his time just pottering around, not needing to do any work. One day he is approached by a girl called Julian who asks him to contact and petition the Warden about various woes of the British society and the outrageous abuses of power. The petition goes badly leading to the birth of a less than competent group of dissidents. Initially the Warden views these dissidents as something of a joke but soon something momentous happens which causes Theo, Julian and her dissident friends to go on the run.

The England P.D. James depicts in this book is a lonely, depressing place where suicide is common, and even encouraged and facilitated by the government. I won't reveal the plot beyond the basic outline already mentioned so far, I do find the book to be very nicely plotted, melancholy, eventually thrilling and the denouement is more than satisfactory. The prose is exquisitely written and makes me want to pick up some more of those Adam Dalgliesh novels just to read more of her beautifully crafted sentences. The main characters are very well drawn, particularly Theo who is very flawed, sympathetic and believable, someone you can really root for. He starts off as a kind of wishy-washy anti-hero:

“I don't want anyone to look to me, not for protection, not for happiness, not for love, not for anything.”

I like how his character gradually transforms by his circumstances as the story progresses. The character of Theo is the polar opposite of the character of the same name portrayed by Clive Owen in the movie version. P.D. James’ Theo is a very polite middle aged and middle class English gentleman, kicking ass and taking names is not in his purview, he is rather awkward and bumbling at times though when push comes to shove he does whatever he has to do.

The dialog is also praise worthy with characters getting burned left and right. The switches between the first person epistolary narrative format and the third person narrative seems a little pointless as the narrative point of view is always restricted to Theo and follows the same linear timeline. Still, I am sure James has her artistic reasons and these switches do not impede the readability of the book at all.

Children of Men is one of my favorite dystopian books alongside [b:1984|5470|1984|George Orwell|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348990566s/5470.jpg|153313], [b: Brave New World|5479|Brave New World / Brave New World Revisited|Aldous Huxley|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1331315450s/5479.jpg|39947767], [b: Make Room! Make Room!|473850|Make Room! Make Room!|Harry Harrison|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1345057490s/473850.jpg|639744] etc. This sub genre continues to be very popular today, though the modern dystopian novels tend to be teen adventures for some reason. Children of Men is the real McCoy.

* In my PrintSF sci-fi discussion group I often see someone comment that they don’t want to read “old sci-fi” where the author got their prediction wrong and the future setting of the novel is now the past and these old books are not worth reading because the author was so far off the mark. Well, excuuuuuse me! It is not the job of sci-fi authors to predict the future, the whole point is to speculate and explore the implications. Children of Men is a case in point, P.D. James certainly was not anticipating global infertility to occur 1995 (the book was first published in 1992). This novel – like many great sf novels – is asking “what if”. I shouldn’t mind really, it’s their loss missing out on so many great books but it’s a bee in my bonnet you know.