The Children of Men by P. D. James: B-

From the back cover:
The human race faces extinction. It is annihilation brought not by disease or nuclear war, not by crashing meteorites or colliding stars. Men and women have ceased, simply, to procreate. In 1994, sperm counts hit zero; pediatrics wards were rapidly and permanently depleted. Overnight, it seemed, the human race had lost its power to breed.

Now, 25 years later, a pervasive lethargy blankets the world. In Britain, one man has set himself up as “Warden,” and as his power grows, morality and hope deteriorate. The Warden’s cousin, the insular and aloof Theo Faron, is shocked out of his apathy when he is approached by a group of dissidents who call themselves The Five Fishes.

Amused and irritated by these amateurish rebels, Faron is drawn into their fragile circle in spite of himself. What they offer him could be the only future he’s got.

The Children of Men starts off promisingly. Theo (not at all Clive Owen-y) isn’t a particularly likeable protagonist, but he’s interesting enough in his cold detachment. Book One relates to his contact with the dissidents, his taking notice of what’s been going on around him, and his unsuccessful attempt to compel the Warden to do something about their concerns.

The implications of a world without children are chillingly explored—no schools, no playgrounds, children existing only as images and voices on recorded media. After humanity dies out, the buildings will sit idle until reclaimed by nature, and no one will ever again read the books. All of the world-building was excellent and thought-provoking.

Book Two begins six months later. The group has been discovered and seeks Theo’s help once again. The novel quickly degenerates into a description of their flight to evade capture. An interminable series of cars and concealing copses ensues. By the time the book dragged itself to a disappointing (but possibly ominous) conclusion, my primary feeling was relief.

I’ve also got a non-plot-related complaint. I’m definitely a fan of P. D. James’ writing style, but I didn’t care for the alternating first and third person narration she employed here. My guess is that this was done because Theo eventually stops writing in his journal and the rest of the story needs to be told, but it certainly doesn’t add anything to the experience.

Ultimately, the book is decent reading, if only for the ideas presented. I plan to see the movie at some point, since I suspect they culled the good bits and eschewed the monotonous ones.

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