The Children of Men

P. D. James
The Children of Men Cover

The kind of


To my mind there are two types of "classics": those whose merit stands not only the test of time, but also the test of an ever-growing genre, and those that are only classic because they were built upon either by the film industry or other writers. The Children of Men is the latter type. In the context of dystopian, false-utopian, near-future, apocalyptic science-fiction, this book is mediocre at best.

The book is broken into two parts, setup and plot. The first, the setup, builds a world where there are no children. All men are sterile and the aging population has begun to quietly give up hope. Meanwhile a dictator takes and keeps power because he wants it and no one else does. The protagonist, Theo, is a cousin of the dictator and a history professor in a world where the youngest generation doesn't give a shit about anything, let alone learning history. The setup is slow and accomplishes the goal of giving the reader a feel for the emotions (mostly boredom) of the average person in the world.

The problems come with it is time for the plot section of the book. ...and here I am mostly angry at James for making her characters so very stupid. The characters have no depth and plot holes abound. We are told that Theo and Julian (the mother in question) are in love, but there is zero build up to it, even in the first person journal entries. If I were a The Children of Men apologist I might say that James was going for a certain detachment from reality of the characters, a coldness from the grind of their circumstances, abnormal seeming reactions in an abnormal situation, but I'm not an apologist and and PD James is no JG Ballard, who can pull off purposefully hollow characters.

I picked up this book for a challenge to read books on The Guardian's list of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels, which skews to the literary, but I found little literary merit here. If you're looking for the first type of classic, the type that stands the test of time, you need not look twice here. Otherwise, it's not terrible, it's just not great.