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The Child Garden

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  1,501 ratings  ·  150 reviews
In a semi-tropical London, surrounded by paddy-fields, the people feed off the sun, like plants, the young are raised in Child Gardens and educated by viruses, And the Consensus oversees the country, 'treating' non-conformism. Information, culture, law and politics are biological functions. But Milena is different: she is resistant to viruses and an incredible musician, on ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published August 11th 2005 by Gollancz (first published 1989)
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Average rating 3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,501 ratings  ·  150 reviews

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Dec 04, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sfmasterworks, scifi
SF Masterworks (2010 relaunch series - reprint) #number unknown!:
A post climate change event sub-tropical London is the setting for this 'she doesn't fit in with the status quo' story of Milena, who's biochemistry, sexual preferences and creativity don't fit into the almost artificially created norms of the day. But... although published in 1989, this tale left me completely cold, with insufficient reality building, weak character development and awful story telling / narration. Although an awar
Aug 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
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 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
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
What a peculiarly imagined work. With a combination of things existing together, forming a very dreamlike realm, a curiously cast society, and a whimsically advancing set of events.

Intimate, casually surreal, and mesmerizingly lyrical. One of those books which encourages you to drop most preconceived notions and just ride with it - like you would in a dream.

Reading updates.
Jul 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Randy Mcdonald
Nov 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Nick Imrie
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biopunk, mindfuq, sci-fi
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. :)
Patrick St-Amand
May 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
A real chore. The idea of a future where viruses help people learn is intriguing and the first 30 pages are interesting. However the story quickly gets convoluted and confusing. It's like it tries to be too many things at once and they don't mesh well. I also found the writing to be laborious and not engaging. ...more
Zen Cho
Jun 07, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Feb 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lewis Manalo
Jul 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.

Oct 14, 2012 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I am genuinely struggling to review this without descending into incoherent joyful screeching noises. It is a book that is beautiful and dense and dramatic and full of heart. It's about memory and art and politics and individuality and biology and so much more.
The whole thing is so poetic and imaginative I could only read it in small sections before I would have to put it down and think through what I had just encountered. A real experience.
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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
L.E. Duncan
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Steve Cooper
Mar 23, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Mar 05, 2014 marked it as didnt-finish
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.
Norman Howe
I enjoyed this- a surreal journey through a dystopia biopunk future in which the cures for human ills are themselves diseases. My only question is, why was it so badly edited an proofread?
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
Aug 11, 2007 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
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 15, 2014 rated it liked it
I was very into this at first, but 1/3 of the way through, when the flashbacks started as Milena was being Read, I became bored. Terribly bored and continuing to read each night became a chore, so after another 100 pages or so (ebook) I stopped. Losing Rolfa's presence in each chapter made the story suffer. Thrawn couldn't replace her. I skipped ahead a few chapters to find Milena flying above the earth in a spaceship and dumping roses on the world, a huge departure, it seemed to me, from the st ...more
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable read! It starts off with an almost Young Adult novel feel, then maybe a smarter young woman's coming of age story, but then it becomes...something more. Incredibly complex, beautiful, explores many ideas about life, humanity, philosophy, relationships and oh, the music.
It is seriously in the realm of House of Leaves, Cloud Atlas and some of the better Murakami books.
It dives deeply into the relevance of society and our consciousness, and how - to quote Terrence McKenna, "Nothing las
Feb 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jun 23, 2010 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.
Ken Kaufman
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
actually i read this book some years ago but there are days when the characters in the book seep into my thoughts like old friends who visit my dreams. a powerful and wonderful and strange story of fantasy and scifi, love and adventure, a worthy reminder that we are different and the same.
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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

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