Beggars in Spain Summary

Nancy Kress

Beggars in Spain

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Beggars in Spain Summary

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Beggars in Spain is a 1993 sci-fi novel by American author Nancy Kress. An extension of a novella of the same name, it was first published in a 1991 issue of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. The novel’s abridged version received the two highest awards for science fiction, the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Beggars in Spain is hailed today for its accurate predictions of technological advances, including genetic engineering. The novel takes place in a society that follows a philosophy similar to Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, to the point where the value of its citizens is contingent solely on their productivity. It was followed by two sequels, Beggars and Choosers and Beggars Ride.

The novel begins in 2023. Leisha Camden is a genetically engineered fifteen-year-old who possesses the “genemod” (short for genetic modification) for sleeplessness. Only a handful of people on Earth have the genemod, which endows them with a higher IQ, a happier personality, and more socially-assigned value due to their inability to rest. Camden falls in love with another Sleepless, Richard Keller. She is wary of another, Tony Indivino, who advocates that the Sleepless form a separate society. Despite Indivino’s hostility, his prediction that the rest of the world will begin to persecute Sleepless slowly comes true. After a Sleepless dies from mortal injuries in a car crash, his autopsy reveals that the Sleepless cannot die of old age. After Indivino is murdered, Camden and Alice help save a Sleepless child, Stella, who is being abused by her parents.

The novel shifts forward in time to 2051. Alice’s son, Jordan, works at a We-Sleep factory whose products capitalize on nationalist sentiment against Sleepless people. Camden learns of a doctor, Adam Walcott, who has allegedly discovered a form of gene therapy that transforms Sleepers into Sleepless. His nearly-complete work describing the procedure has been stolen; Camden asks Susan Melling to complete the work without him. Sanctuary, the corporation under which the procedure is patented, has instated a nefarious policy forcing Sleepless to declare their loyalty. Its permanent leader, Jennifer Sharifi, kills Walcott’s research partner. A court case develops accusing Sharifi of orchestrating the murder, and she is ousted from the company. Susan Melling learns that Walcott’s research never came close to being feasible. Camden discovers that Calvin Hawke masterminded the whole sequence of events, including Sharifi’s crimes and ousting. After his incrimination, Sanctuary declares that it is moving its operations to space.

The novel continues in 2075. America now is split into three primary classes: the “Livers,” who subsist healthily, but not vibrantly, on a basic income; the white-collar “Donkeys,” who are selected by the Livers’ democratic consensus; and the Sleepless, who create and control all technological innovation. A young Liver named Drew obtains a medical treatment that endows him with a synaesthesia-like ability to project illusory sensations in the form of holograms. Sanctuary’s site in outer space creates a girl named Miranda Serena Sharifi, a “Superbright” even smarter than the Sleepless. Fearing attacks from the Sleepers, Jennifer Sharifi tries to make Sanctuary a sovereign state. Her company Sharifi Enterprises begins devising a biological weapon to leverage against threats from Earth.

The end of the novel takes place in 2091 and 2092. After the United States loses its ownership of the patents for cold fusion, it falls into economic depression. The U.S. subjects Sanctuary, which is still based within it, to a 92 percent tax rate. Sharifi and the Sanctuary Council set their plan to become sovereign in motion. Miri, a Superbright, experiences the death of her brother Tony, and then bands together with other Sleepless to resist the remaining Superbrights, whom they believe pose an existential threat. They dub themselves the “Beggars.” With Drew Arlen’s psychic help, Miri cures her own neurological ailment, which is common to the Superbrights. The Beggars create a series of failsafe weapons in Sanctuary that they can deploy in an emergency.

On the first day of 2092, Sanctuary secedes from the U.S. The Internal Revenue Service intends to reclaim Sanctuary’s ship as punishment for its failure to pay taxes. Sanctuary threatens the U.S. into submission by deploying its bioweapon on a space station containing only livestock, killing all of its inhabitants. Miri and the rest of the beggars, in turn, use their failsafe bombs to force Sanctuary to de-escalate. Jennifer declares Miri and the Beggars political enemies. In the novel’s final scene, the Superbrights, with Miri, move to New Mexico, suggesting the possibility of a new union between Sanctuary and the United States.