After reading The King’s Last Song, (review forthcoming), I decided to see what else Geoff Ryman had to offer, especially in the SF realm. I found The Child Garden at the Strand and settled on it though copies of a few of his other books were available.
The book is set in a future, somewhat socialist, London. As I remember it, children are taken to what is basically an organic supercomputer consciousness and wiped, clean of “infection,” ostensibly, but in reality, of certain socially unacceptable aspects of their personality framed as a type of original sin. If they have any talents, the rough edges (and genius) of them are donated to the consciousness to benefit society as a whole, and the person is assigned a role in society. Children are then moved into community living situations based on their role. The main character, Milena, is an actor.
Also inhabiting the world are a handful of descendents of failed genetic modification experiments and inexplicably old full- humans who are sour and crazy with age.
The plot hinges on a somewhat dissonant aspect of Ryman’s future—homosexuality is considered one of the infections mentioned above, and is all but eradicated by the wiping process. Milena, however, has never been wiped and falls for an alcoholic, musically gifted, massively built polar girl. They have a short, tortured romance than changes everyone’s life, blah, blah, blah, space trip, blah, blah blah, and humankind’s destiny is changed!
While I liked the details of the setting, the whole love story aspect felt aggressively shoehorned in. It was distractingly bad, especially when Milena describes the physical repulsiveness of her polar girl love, which makes the whole desperateness of the attraction seem like an incredibly weak plot point. Women do require some sex appeal to be attracted, something Ryman conveniently forgets to move his story along.