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Book Review - Dark, Poetic Children of Men Provides Thoughtful Premise


Iíll preface this by saying, first of all, that I havenít seen the 2006 movie that just came out on DVD. I did buy the book to read it in advance of the film, a habit in which I often indulge when I realize a movie is based upon a novel. However, from reading the descriptions of the film I believe that the 1993 book shares basically a premise with the movie and thatís about it.

The movie is set in 2027; six years after the events in the book. Thereís very little futuristic vision outlined in the noveló I really was imagining a world that was a lot like ours, except perhaps more picturesque because of the academic, oceanside and rural English settings. I gather that some of the names of characters are the same, although the names are not necessarily applied to the right people. And I also guess that, as with many novel-to-movie adaptions, thereís more action in the movie than in the book.

The basic post-apocalyptic idea is that the human race is infertile. One day people just stopped having children, and at the very beginning of the book the last-born child ever, at age 25, dies. Fertility testing on normal, unblemished humans continues, but to no avail. Our hero, a 50-year-old Oxford academic named Theoóand once advisor to Xan, leader of England, is approached by a dissident group. This group, not particularly well-organized or cohesive, wants Theo to use his influence with his cousin Xan to discuss some of societyís ills. Theo denies that he has any influence with his cousin (thatís why he left his service in the first place) but agrees to a meeting after viewing a Quietusóa mass-suicide event that Theo can see is not all voluntary.

The meeting does not go at all well. Afterwards, Theo takes a summer sabbatical while the dissident group, calling themselves the Five Fishes, start making themselves known with incidents that put them on the wanted list. He is questioned. Because heís developed a bond with a young woman who is part of the group, Theo lets it be known that if Julian needs help heíll come to her. And when he returns from the trip, he discovers that she does need help. In fact, she is pregnant. Naturally, this is a huge development. Xan will want Julian and the baby by him. This will cement his leadership, and heíll stop at nothing to get them if he knows.

At first it doesnít seem possible that Xan will ever find out. Even though his cronies have captured Gascoigne, a member of the group, Gascoigne doesnít actually know about the pregnancy. Julian has kept it well hidden. Unfortunately, it turns out that the child does not belong to Julianís husband Rolf, the power-hungry leader of the Five Fishes, and her betrayal spurs his. Julian refuses to have her baby born under state observation, even though she realizes that after itís birth it must belong to the people as well as herself.

The novel by P.D. James is well-written and poetic, envisioning the quietest apocalypse ever. Mostly the first half is retrospective, metaphorical and idea-driven, subtle and melancholy, written nostalgically about the human race. The second half has a very different tone, which some might find jarring, although I didnít because I believe the author does a good job of tensing you up to the fact that the next part of the book will be mostly action. And in part two, the characters are now on the run. Scenes in this half of the book include a violent interlude with the last-born children, called Omegas, and the final standoff against Xan.

Although the writing is complex, the plot really isnít. Characters are vivid and interesting, and their motives are realistic. The ideas are fascinating, although I canít envision a malady that would cause infertility on a mass scale the way itís portrayed in this novel. Hospitals just suddenly realize no pregnant woman are coming in anymore. The part of me that wishes for a pat solution wishes the author would explain why this happened and why the pregnancy occurs now (although there are hints). The novel ends on a hopeful note, though, just so you know itís not all doom and gloom.

If you have seen the movie, I recommend forgetting that the two universes have anything to do with each other despite the picture of Clive Owen on the cover of the newest edition. If you like dark, idea-driven sci-fi and good writing, you should enjoy this book.

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