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The Child Garden: A Low Comedy
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The Child Garden: A Low Comedy

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  1,190 Ratings  ·  107 Reviews
In the city of the future, humans photosynthesize, viruses educate people, organics have replaced electronics...and almost no one lives past forty. In the city of the future, Milena is resistant to the viruses. She is barred from the Consensus. She has Bad Grammar. In the city of the future, Milena feels alone. In the city of the future, Milena meets Rolfa, the huge and hi ...more
Paperback, 388 pages
Published April 15th 1994 by Orb Books (first published 1989)
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That rare combination of great writing and truly imaginative worldbuilding, and yet... The Child Garden takes place at some unspecified point in the future, when the Earth has warmed to the point that London has become a subtropical area protected from the sea by a human-made Barrier Reef, and 100 years after a worldwide communist revolution (and also the failure of electricity) has ushered in a new era of Foucauldian discipline, as we are repeatedly told that this is a population so conditioned ...more
Apr 19, 2010 Kelly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I guess this review contains spoilers but I honestly don't have a clue what the fuck happened in this book, so it'd be difficult for me to actually spoil you. Plus, the only person who's going to read this is Martha, so.

Since I moved to Boston six years ago, I have only ever read books when I am on public transportation. If I pick up a book to keep reading it when I'm at home, I feel guilty and force myself to stop. Because what if I finish the book tonight and then tomorrow morning I am confron
Nov 30, 2012 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is paranoid, tender, poetic, frantic, utopian, distopian, tedious, tragic, exultant, and absolutely riddled with typos (at least the Small Beer Press edition). However, it is also a once in a lifetime book. To give a brief summary of even one of the plot lines would give me a headache. There is a lot here. The shear outlandishness of Ryman’s vision made it feel like it would topple over at any minute (it sometimes does). But it is worth it. This guy has thought thoughts way weirder and ...more
Randy Mcdonald
Nov 25, 2012 Randy Mcdonald rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
It is the year 2075.

In the early 21st century, American biotechnologists manage to cure cancer with a simple infectious virus. Only after this virus is released in the Earth's atmosphere is it found that cancer in fact plays a vital role in extending life: Cancer cells, being immortal, secrete proteins that prevent cell death, allowing people to get old. Without cancer people die at the age of 35. The halving of human life expectancy--to say nothing of the mass death suffered by everyone unfortu
Jul 30, 2007 Wealhtheow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: EVERYONE
Beyond incredible. In the world of the future, humanity has sacrificed growth and old age to the alter of knowledge. While telling a most unconventional love story Ryman finds time to play with the ideas of evolution, love, identity, madness, and whether knowledge is the acquisition of facts or something else. His main character is a woman I would love to know myself. This is a must read, regardless of whether you like sf or not.
Nick Imrie
Wow, this book was interesting. Deep, rich, complicated, well-written. There's a lot in here: love, death, art, freedom. The SF elements are absolutely nutty! I haven't seen this anywhere else. And the love story broke my heart.

No idea how I'm going to review it.
Feb 28, 2010 martha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of Maureen McHugh
What an odd, interesting read. The world-building is fantastic: somehow a huge welter of disparate futuristic elements manages to fit together into a cohesive whole. A subtropical, Communist, vaguely medieval London; genetically modified photosynthesizing humans; hyperintelligent children; a governing, literal collective unconscious; Dante, opera, holograms, weird genetically mutated mental contagions, etc etc.

I really liked how the society was obviously problematic without being overly menacing
Jun 30, 2013 Brad rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, mindfuq, biopunk
What really stands out in my mind is the imaginative use of biology and photosynthesis with the people. The mind and memory aspects were also fascinating for both a story vehicle and character development. I thought it was a fun read, but more importantly, it was very full of great ideas and should be read for this, if not anything else. :)
Jul 01, 2013 zxvasdf rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Paul di Filippo coined the term ribofunk as the biological analogue to the popular genre steampunk. That is an adequate term to describe Ryman's London of the future, which consists of a pit filled with historical oddities such as wooden houses and faithful theatrical productions while the rest are communities grown of living coral or vast mycelial structures that serve as a food source as well as a housing arrangement.

This is the future, one that this reviewer has failed to render in the beau
Feb 02, 2013 Kian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-masterworks
In the future, cancer has been cured, but at the price of the longevity of live. People now only live to their 30s, and as such, have to become adults all the more quickly. Society has invented viruses to replace learning, augment immunity and provide human photosynthesis. The Consesnsus is a collective of intelligence, guiding humanity and removing non-normal conformity. In this, the story follows Milena - a woman who is resistant to viruses and suffers from "bad grammar", but the Collective ha ...more
Hannah Boyd
This book was interesting - it's not really dystopian, it's not really artificial intelligence, it's not really sci-fi. But it kind of is. I guess it's kind of a believable exploration of where science could take society and what that could mean. It's funny that the way we live now is held up as being so fantastic compared to where they end up in the book, especially since our current way of life is so flawed and unsustainable.
Mar 05, 2014 Jenne marked it as didnt-finish  ·  review of another edition
This started out really interesting, and I think Geoff Ryman is no-kidding a genius, but I got about halfway through and realized I was not reading any books at all because of how much I was avoiding reading this one. I think part of the problem is that the main character is so dissociated from herself that I just couldn't connect with her...which made it really hard to be interested in her story after a while.
Too bad, because everything else in the book was FASCINATING.
Lewis Manalo
Jul 25, 2010 Lewis Manalo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the dystopian London of the future, a teenage germophobe has a lesbian romance with an opera-singing polar bear. And that's just the beginning.

This book is FREAKIN' AWESOME. The premise sounds completely ridiculous, but the story engages the reader emotionally and intellectually. This book is a must for sci-fi fans and (though explaining it would spoil parts of the story) for theater people, too.

My first thought upon finishing this book was that this is for those people who say that they are looking for something different. This book had a little bit of everything - a love story, a dystopian setting, music and theatre, genetically engineered humans - and that's just the first few chapters. I thought that the book was well written although there were times when I had problems following along. Some important ideas were explained in just a sentence or two in a kind of throwaway fashion and ...more
Zen Cho
Jun 07, 2008 Zen Cho rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sff
I liked this less than Air, but that might be because Air was my first encounter with Geoff Ryman. I think this suffered a bit from the fact that it was a third Ryman book in a row; one starts wondering what his thing is about floods, weird pregnancies and khatulistiwa climes ... equatorial is the word! Right. As I said, one starts wondering, which is okay if one is a literary critic, but slightly less so if one is merely a reader who wishes to be engrossed.

I am still a bit puzzled about the kha
I kept going back and forth on this book. Or, better - up and down. And also, the book had some part in that too, it's not just that I'm fickle. I thought it was deeply interesting, but terribly paced. Sometimes it reminded me of a Derek Jarman movie, and sometimes of Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam books, but the weird visuals were oddly inaccessible. I feel like it's the sort of sci-fi academics love, or that academics who work on sci-fi love love (I'm an academic and I didn't love it), and maybe ...more
People love this book. People hate this book. I loved it, but it wasn't perfect love. This is a flawed book, but after a while I began to enjoy it on a character level. There is real emotion here among the oddness. The politics, as usual, escaped me. I don't have the mind for philosophy or politics. What interests me is character, motivation, love, art,inventiveness. I don't read a lot of SF, so I can't comment on whether or not this is good science fiction or spec fiction, but at the time I rea ...more
Steve Cooper
Lots of interesting ideas and references with good pedigree, but there's lots of tedium in this book as well. Love the GEs, but couldn't quite square all the behaviours attributed to them. The idea of Milena's relationship with Thrawn was much more promising than the execution of it ended up being - The attempt to have Milena feel guilt about Thrawn's ultimate demise felt half-hearted and contrived to me. I lost patience with the fractured chronology and focus on detail that almost seemed like a ...more
B.P. Gregory
Give me the short version: Cancer was finally bested, at the accidental cost of lifespan, individuality and, cruelest of all, childhood itself. Not even Milena realizes she intends to change all this.

Amongst my friends, The Child Garden is known colloquially as "That Sad Book" because every time I finish it I end up bawling with a total overload of grief and joy.

The structure's initially a mystery to somebody unfamiliar with opera, but the story is more than powerful enough to stick with until
Aug 11, 2007 Min rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
I don't remember how I got this book, or even when. I have owned it for a long time, though, and re-read it at least once a year. More than any other book I have read, I find that I still react as strongly to each reading as I did to the first. It is beautifully written: lyrical, heartbreaking, imaginative, thought-provoking, and touching.
This is not a book for those who like linear story lines or who find themselves easily confused if the timeframe is not explicitly given. Nor is it for those
Jun 04, 2012 kateywatey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The word dystopic has become so overused and ubiquitously misunderstood. This book would be the ideal slap in the face for those really seeking to find accounts of a life less ordinary ...

Lovers of music will not be disappointed. The language is rich, lyrical, rhythmically dominant in luring you from page to page.

Lovers of women equally will find themselves instantly taken by the Milena/Rolfa camp. I identified with Milena, and couldn't help but fall for Rolfa ...

5* -- highly recommended.
Feb 26, 2012 Bee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
People are purple because they photosynthesize, viruses are cures that change who you are, some people turn into Bees and then can grow vegetation (if they haven't accidentally swapped identities with a dog), organic spaceships can re-write genetics to grow anything from snapping turtles to roses, and genetically engineered people are turned into polar bears to mine in the Arctic. Really weird, but kind of awesome.
Jun 23, 2010 Paige rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fsf, postapocalyptic
Mind-blowing. That's pretty much all there is to say.

Oh, except for a hint: don't try to quantify the narrative, or try to get something sensical and linear out of it. That's not the point of the novel. The point is to convey the themes therein: life, death, the necessity of change and creative thinking.
Rory Tregaskis
Dec 21, 2015 Rory Tregaskis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Never read anything like it.

It's flawed, but because of how original it is, I think it deserves five stars.
Dec 22, 2016 tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE rated it really liked it
Shelves: sf
review of
Geoff Ryman's The Child Garden
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - December 8, 2016

As is so often the case, I have more to say about & to quote from this bk than the review space has rm for so this review is cut-off in middle age. For the full review, go here:

As someone who's read quite a few bks by Greg Bear it was hard not to notice his endorsement of this bk on its cover: "Science Fiction of a Very High Order!" Given that I think of Bear as o
L.E. Duncan
May 12, 2017 L.E. Duncan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that's a good experience, a fascinating experience, but I wish I could rate it just a bit lower because it's kinda uneven. We're talking 60 percent spectacular, dizzy surrealism and hungry, isolated personalities grasping for each other (what fun what fun) and 40 percent repetition. I'm hesitant to talk too much about all the delightful little surprises, all the absurdities described perfectly seriously, because the pleasures of The Child Garden are in the unexpected m ...more
Bob Rust
May 16, 2017 Bob Rust rated it it was amazing
Complexly massages an array of themes – Drugs, Dystopia, Ecology, Feminism, Gender, Hive Minds, Medicine and Music – into a long rich novel about identity and the making of great art. Set in a transfigured UK – in effect a Parallel World – the book stands as one of the sturdiest monuments of "Humanist" sf.
May 02, 2012 Niall519 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
Almost impossible to review or really describe: which is partially a result of reading a lot of it in brief chunks while falling asleep at night, and partially as a result of both the subjects and style. The best I can do is jot down a couple of thoughts and reactions.

The first is that it's reasonably easy to trace lines of influence leading to and from this book. I found elements of JG Ballard, PK Dick, Greg Bear, and even Michael Moorcock in this. Subsequently, similar tropes show up in some o
Kelly Flanagan
Oct 09, 2013 Kelly Flanagan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Margaret Atwood / offcenter books

This was a great book. Reminiscent of a Margaret Atwood yet totally original. I was nonchalant about the lead character for most of the book, as she is a difficult person to like. After finishing the book and thinking about it, the dislike was probably due to seeing glimpses of my own unsociability in her. But although she seems the underdog, perceptions are often misleading. Much like the plot in this book. I found it went everywhere except where I expected it to go.

The story takes place in Lo
Andy Mangham
Jun 01, 2016 Andy Mangham rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I read reviews of this book that claim it's too abstract, easy to get lost in (not in the good way), or just plain over the top, I have to admit–I know where they're coming from. The book IS abstract; I can't deny it–I can't even honestly say that I understood it 100% of the time. It also asks a lot out of the average reader–the world of The Child Garden is a helluva lot different than ours, so much so that some readers might find it hard to take seriously.
However, I took the book seriously
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Geoffrey Charles Ryman (born 1951) is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and slipstream fiction. He was born in Canada, and has lived most of his life in England.

His science fiction and fantasy works include The Warrior Who Carried Life (1985), the novella The Unconquered Country (1986) (winner of the British Science Fiction Award and the World Fantasy Award), and The Child Garden (1989) (winner
More about Geoff Ryman...

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“Sex complicates, but it is the power of love to simplify.” 10 likes
“In the silence, nothing was fragmented. There were no separate strands to gather together, to fumble, to complete for attention. In the silence, all of that fell away, and there was only what was here, and what was to be done.” 6 likes
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