Beggars in Spain, by Nancy Kress
Rating: good, but very long!
Gene-modification leads to the development of children who physically do not need to sleep. The extra hours in the day, in addition to other genemods, make these “Sleeplesses” radically more intelligent than regular people, and soon leads to a worldwide distrust/hatred of them. All but a few of the Sleepless cloister themselves inside of an intentional community, which eventually moves to space. The Sleepless secretly develop a new genemod, which creates super-intelligent humans, who become outcasts themselves due to the extreme xenophobic paranoia that Jennifer Sharifi, leader of the Sleepless, holds. Jennifer declares sovereignty against the United States, using the threat of devastating biological weapons. Thankfully, the Super children had already secretly implemented failsafe overrides, and stage a coup that forces a multilateral decision of independence.
The first section of the book offers a laughable, and unfortunately obvious satire of free-market capitalist ideology. Later, the U.S. devolves into an odd class-system where virtually everyone is upper-class because of energy-technology breakthroughs, and is also uneducated because they no longer need to work. Oddly, the elected officials are their own class of people who do work, and consequently are “lower-class”. The Sleeper/Sleepless conflict is obviously a parallel to racism, but also an allegory for anti-intellectualism. The ultimate argument is for equity, community, and empathy. [update:] according to discussions I’ve read online, most people seem to read this book as a libertarian defense of the ideas that I interpreted as satire. I don’t really care to re-read this just to find out.
Unlike most of the old pulp novels I read, Nancy Kress writes women as if they are regular people.