Forget about doing the other five things and read Richard Powers’s Generosity at least twice. I hadn’t heard of Powers until I was given this novel—the latest in an oeuvre of fictional explorations of scientific themes that includes The Gold Bug Variations, Galatea 2.2 and The Echo Maker—and now I wonder how I managed to remain ignorant of him for so long.
Generosity has many themes: the promise, threats and limitations of science and technology; the interface between biotech and big business; celebrity in a digital age; trust; the boundless sea of information and mediated experience—shallow but shark-infested—in which we live. But these are all subordinated to a profound meditation on the nature and origin of happiness and on what it is that makes us human.
At the centre of a cast of unforgettable characters is Thassa Amzwar, a refugee who has escaped to Chicago from an Algeria rendered hellish by endless civil war. She radiates an unaccountable happiness, an intense joy at the ordinary things of life, and the seemingly banal question of whether she carries a happiness gene is the motor for an immensely subtle and witty fiction. Each page of Generosity carries enough brilliant metaphors to furnish an entire volume of verse and the novel teems with insights that science fiction and fiction about science rarely achieve.
Generosity (Atlantic books) is published on 1st January 2010