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The Children of Men    by P. D. James order for
Children of Men
by P. D. James
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2006 (1992)
Hardcover, Paperback
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

When I read a summary of The Children of Men, I expected something like Wyndham's Day of the Triffids, but was rather disappointed. While P.D. James writes masterfully of a future world (and in particular England in the year 2021) smitten suddenly by a lack of future for humanity (caused by a sudden onset of worldwide male sterility), the story moves slowly and the society and its workings (which are brilliantly thought through) hold more interest than the plot.

All is grey and hopeless and apathetic, and a dictator, Xan, the Warden of England, has taken power, promising to keep the privileged comfortable as society shuts down and mankind's tenure on the planet ends. He runs England via a Council and a private army of Grenadiers. Oxford historian Theodore Faron grew up with Xan, as the poor cousin who spent summer holidays at the manor of his rich relatives. At Xan's request, Theo acted for two years as observer/advisor at Council meetings, but eventually resigned.

The last generation of humanity, the Omegas (born in 1995), are different, the men arrogant and violent, the women beautiful and listless. Omegas from less affluent countries are imported and exploited as Sojourners, to serve the fast-aging population. Criminals are exiled to the Isle of Man, where the strong brutalize the weak, without any supervision. And the old and sickly are encouraged to participate in the Quietus, ceremonial mass suicide, whose participants are not allowed to change their minds.

Theo is approached by a young woman named Julian, one of a group of five amateur revolutionaries including her husband Rolf, a priest named Luke, ex-midwife Miriam and (relatively) young Gascoigne. They want Theo to use his supposed influence with Xan to convey their demands to restore democracy. After viewing a Quietus for himself, Theo does interrupt his comfortable existence to meet with Xan, but to no avail.

So the Five Fishes take action, sabotaging a few Quietus ceremonies. And of course they're sought by the Warden and his Grenadiers. Theo is asked to help them once more and, in love with Julian, this fifty-year-old man gets involved in conspiracy, only to find there is much more at stake than he would ever have guessed. No longer apathetic, he joins them on the run, dealing in violence and death - with all the resources of the Warden on their trail.

P. D. James is an excellent writer, who does a remarkable job of describing in credible detail how the world might change when hope for future generations is taken away. While slow to develop, The Children of Men is an elegant work that keeps to the classic SF tradition of an ambiguous ending, with a twist to it.

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