I recently re-read The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card. This book really matters to me, on a number of different levels. It’s not his most touching novel and by no means does it have the best characters. But it examines the nature of morality in a direct, simple manner that I’ve not found in too many other books.
The premise is that, due to genetics, a race of super beings exists, and they’ve saved humankind from all pain–they watch over everyone else. No more physical injuries–if you cut off your hand, they can heal it from afar. No more mental anguish–if your parent dies, they make it seem as though it was a year ago. No more social problems–bastards are prevented in the womb, and similar actions have no consequences.
And that’s the fundamental issue. What does it mean to be an adult human being when actions have no consequences? Without choice, what is morality? These are issues that religions and philosophers have struggled with for thousands and thousands of years, but I like Card’s answer.
In addition to the main novella, the book also contains a set of short stories that ‘back up’ the main one. Just as the Silmarillion, while not a fantastic read, enhances your appreciation of Middle Earth, these backing stories add depth to the Worthing universe. It’s not often that you get a chance to read this underlying material, and that’s another thing that makes this book unique.
It’s also fantastic to see Orson Scott Card evolve as a writer. He was able to pick and choose the best of these short stories, but even so, you can still see him pay homage to the writers he read (as he mentions in the preface) as well as develop ideas of his own.
It’s a great book, and I highly recommend it.