The original novella.
Publication year: 1991
Page count: 210
Roger Camden is a wealthy man and he wants only for the best for his daughter. So, even before she’s born, Roger wants advantages for her. Not just good looks, a slim body, and a high IQ but the newest enhancement: not being able to sleep. It’s still an experimental change and Roger has to stoop to blackmail to get it, but he does.
However, something unexpected occurs: it turns out that Roger’s wife Elizabeth is carrying twins. One of the girls is a normal humans and another is the enhanced one. Elizabeth never wanted a genius child and she’s happy while Roger wants only the enhanced girl. The girls’ grow up rich but from a young age they already sense that they’re different from each other and that their parents treat them differently. Roger wants to send them both to a school for the gifted but after a terrible fight with Elizabeth, Alice, the normal girl, and she goes to a normal school while Leisha is sent to more advanced school. The girls start to drift apart.
When Leisha is fifteen she insists that she meet the other Sleepless, as the enhanced people call themselves. Normal people have difficulty understanding some of the Sleepless’ experiences, so Leisha is very happy to interact with people like herself. However, already some of the Sleepless are starting to be afraid of the normal people whom the Sleepless expect to hate and fear them – because some of the Sleepless consider themselves better than the normal people. Many of the Sleepless have a high IQ and because they don’t have to waste a third of their lives sleeping, they achieve more than normal people their age; they breeze through school and excel in studies.
Unfortunately, the more paranoid Sleepless are correct; some normal people (the Sleepers) don’t understand the Sleepless and are even jealous of them and afraid of them. Unfortunately, this section of US society seem to be more vocal than others and they spread fear among the rest.
This is an interesting study of how humans tend to treat differently people who are different from them. As history shows, humans tend to cast blame and fear towards people who are different from them. The Sleepless, of course, are physically different and can achieve more.
The novella also presents the question of what, if anything, the privileged owe to the poor. Leisha and many of the other characters follow Kenzo Yagai who advocates that man dignity comes solely through what he can achieve through his own efforts and that contracts between individuals is the bases of society, not things taken by force or threat of force. Which is great, as long as a boy is born healthy to a loving family with at least some amount of wealth. Otherwise, not so much. Of women he doesn’t say a word and of course a poor pregnant woman with an illness is in a vulnerable position in a way Mr. Yagai never has to experience himself and can therefore simply ignore.
Some of the Sleepless argue that they don’t owe anything to the normal humans and should even form their own society. However, Leisha is strongly against that. The novella gives an answer to the question which I think is the only answer possible which will likely irritate the people who believe that the poor and the sick should die in gutters because they’re not able to lift themselves out of it.
Leisha and later Alice are pretty much only characters with any meat on them. Unfortunately, the rest of them aren’t really fleshed out. Of course, the ideas are central to the story, more than characters. This was written in 1991 so I don’t know how much information was then available about the effects of sleep. However, the bad side effects of sleeplessness (such as irritability, risk of various diseases, and loss of long-term memory) weren’t dealt with at all. In fact, Kress presents the opposite: that the Sleepless are less passionate, more rational, highly intelligent, and less likely to be sick than the normal humans.
Despite all my criticisms I enjoyed the story and while I’ll probably don’t continue with this series, I’m curious to try something else from Kress.