So, I didn’t even know this book was a book when I went to read it. I bought the novellla a few months ago because it won the Nebula and I like the title. The rest of the review will be about the full novel that I was able to pick up later and read.
The novella begins in a doctor’s office in the nearish future (less nearish at the time of the writing of the book) where an officious rich man is berating a well-known geneticist as he and his wife design their designer baby. He wants all the standards: potential vast intelligence, potential musical talent and creativity, etc etc. The reason I say potential is because as the doctor mentions, he can only guarantee predispositions, not outcomes. So the man, a well-known financier, needles the doctor a little and demands that his child also be given the ability to be sleepless. The doctor demurs, but gives in. So! Baby doesn’t need to sleep. It turns out, however, there’s twins!
So as we move forward, what we understand is that while the sleepless children, and there’s many of them, are not necessarily geniuses (and some are) they are especially efficient because of the additional time they have. So everything is all a little accelerated. And of course, regular people hate them! It leads to so many problems in the early. We leave on a bit of a drop off, but an exciting one.
The overall effect is a lot like an Octavia Butler novel series. So far so good.
Novel itself — even the first section is more fleshed out.
But once we get out of the initial world-building stage of the novella, the novel shifts to 20 years down the line where the Sleepless are an established entity in the world. They have a community, political power through lobbying and economic means, and they have enemies now, from within and without. A growing political movement seeks to erase the advantages of the Sleepless by way of a “We Sleep” economic movement (akin to America First economic policies) that reward identity and ideological allegiance over that of superior goods and services. The Sleepless are presented with a possible scientific breakthrough that would allow adults to become Sleepless, and the novel goes from there.
The novel jumps about 20 or so years in each of the remaining sections still following the protagonist as she more or less stays in the same in the future of the Earth. Sleeplessness has an unplanned for side effect of slow aging, so not only are Sleepless advantaged through efficiency and other mods, they don’t grow old at the same rate.
The novel dives into competing ideas about automation, with the future divided into the classes of workers and politicians, the Sleepless, and the Livers, who are recipients of welfare and are not expected to contribute directly. It’s both a leisure class, and ultimately a meaningless one. I am still trying to parse the politics of this, but it might merely be a meditation of the future state of things in a more or less pragmatic set of terms. We might not be able to stop automation, and this society treats it humanely — after a few decades of much less humaneness. This feels like a pretty well-thought out vision of the future put this way.