BEGGARS IN SPAIN is a tale of biological advantages. It poses the question: what would happen to society if some of it’s members never needed to sleep? Kress primarily explores the economic and discriminatory aspects of Sleepers versus Sleepless (she dwells on the truism that humans love to hate each other and will use any difference as an excuse to do so), but she also plumbs the interior landscapes of her characters’ struggles. This latter aspect grounds what might otherwise be a preachy science fictional social commentary and turns it into a fascinating exploration of what makes us human.
Kress is a master of the scene — each one flinging vivid characters at you, embroiling them in interesting conflicts, and leaving you wondering what will happen next. The result is the rapid turning of pages. While the idea of Sleeplessness and the advantages it might confer (I don’t want to give away any plot points here) is interesting and integral to the plot, it is Kress’ deft touch with characters that kept me reading. All of her characters are flawed – engaging and unlikeable in equal measure. Reading about their adventures is a little like watching your friends and family — rooting for them when they make choices of which you approve and frowning with worry when they refuse your advice and head stubbornly down a path you see leading to ruin.
The tale stretches over several generations yet retains an intimate perspective, and Kress wraps up the conflict with a climax that makes sense within the narrative arc of the story but still feels like (somewhat) of a surprise. The ending was not earth-shattering, but it was satisfying. When I closed the book and set it down I felt that sense of loss a good book inspires – it was over and I could never again read it for the first time.