Bewilderment by Richard Powers
Genre: sci-fi? Maybe political fiction? Maybe dystopian?
I read it as a(n): hardback
Length: 278 pp
Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Theo Byrne is a struggling single father. His son, Robin, has behavioural issues and seems to be on the spectrum. They are both grieving the loss of Robin’s mother, Alyssa, who died in a car accident a few years previously. Theo is an astrobiologist and uses computer programs to theorise about the climates of other planets. The information is then used to try to help correct Earth’s own climate crisis, which is worsening rapidly thanks to a belligerently anti-science government and a rise in religious fundamentalism.
If it sounds familiar, it should. This book was clearly written in response to the four horrendous years of the Trump administration, their ignorant and anti-scientific approach to as many things as possible, the sharp rise in Christian nationalism (AKA, Nazism), and the global climate crisis speeding up.
This book made me mad and it made me scared. I was already mad and scared enough as it was, so this was not, perhaps, the best thing for me to read when I am already stressed out and anxious. I do think this should be on the curriculum for all contemporary literature classes, and it could probably find a place in at least the recommended reading of environmental science and behavioural science programs.
The plot itself is fine. It was really sort of a modern take on Flowers for Algernon, so in that, it was pretty predictable. I felt bad for Theo because he had such a hard time finding help for Robin. I 100% disagreed with his surprisingly anti-medicine attitude, though. He didn’t want to give Robin vaccines because of the miniscule amount of mercury in some of them. I think there is more mercury in the fish we eat than what’s in vaccines. There was also a line in there about how no doctor can diagnose his son better than he can. Well, yes. Yes, they can. A parent is obviously more familiar with the kinds of emotional and behavioural outbursts a kid has, but unless they are also a doctor with a specialty in XYZ issues, then no, they can’t diagnose their own kids just as well as a doctor can. It’s why we have doctors in the first place. So that part really turned me off.
Overall, I liked it but the more I think about it, the more I realise that is all. I liked it, I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to.
- I wanted to tell the man that everyone alive on this little fluke planet was on the spectrum. That’s what a spectrum is. I wanted to tell the man that life itself is a spectrum disorder, where each of us vibrated at some unique frequency in the continuous rainbow (5).
- I’d visit Enceladus and Europa and Proxima Centauri b, at least via spectroscopy. I’d learn how to read the histories and biographies of their atmospheres. And I’d comb through those distant oceans of air for the slightest signs of anything breathing (48).
- …God isn’t something you can prove or disprove. But from what I can see, we don’t need any bigger miracle than evolution (59).
- The library was the best dungeon crawl imaginable: free loot for the finding, combined with the joy of leveling up (76).
- Had mass extinction ever once felt real? (81).
- In such steadiness, there was no great call to assist or improvise or second-guess or model much of anything.
- He thought about that. Trouble is what creates intelligence?
- I said yes. Crisis and change and upheaval.
- His voice turned sad and wondrous. Then we’ll never find anyone smarter than us (114).
- You know how when you talk to someone stupid and it makes you stupid, too? (116).
- Have you ever considered what is going on inside a leaf? I mean, really thought about it? It’s a total mind-fuck (185).
- Almost nobody knows this, but plants do pretty much all the work. Everybody else is just a parasite (215).
- I knew then why these men wanted to kill this project. The cost overruns were just an excuse. The country’s ruling party would have opposed the Seeker even if it were free. Finding other Earths was a globalist plot deserving the Tower of Babel treatment. If we academic elites found that life arose all over, it wouldn’t say much for humanity’s Special Relationship with God (218).