Half Past Human, or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

There hasn’t been a lot of posting on this blog lately.

It’s not that I’ve been idle. I’m working on a new series of which over half is written, but I won’t post it until all the individual posts are written.

In the meantime, since bloggers MPorcius and Joachim Boaz were talking on Twitter about T. J. Bass’ science fiction novels , I thought I’d put up reviews of them.

Here’s the first. Joachim Boaz’s take is here.

Fletcher Vrendenburgh reviewed it over at Black Gate.

Raw Feed (1998): Half Past Human, T. J. Bass, 1971.

Half Past Human
Cover by Michael McInnerney

 This book belongs to a subgenre that includes Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, William F. Nolan’s and George Clayton Johnson’s Logan’s Run: the dystopic city dweller trying to flee – usually with a lover – into the country and into a better society. (George Orwell’s 1984 featured lovers finding no refuge from their urban hell. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World featured a rustic commenting on its world).

This novel’s strength is that it uses the devices and character types of all these novels. Moon is the rustic never part of the Hive, its sworn enemy. Tinker, like Logan, is an enforcer (or, at least, an enabler) of the dystopian order who finds itself on its bad side and throws his lot in with the five toed aborigines. Kaia the hunter, through a pharmacological accident, goes abo and likes it. Moses the Pipe Man also is attracted to the abo life.

Of course most novels with this plot have the loyal supporters of the status quo. Here those figures are the clever Val (who ends up an involuntary stud for five-toed genes to the “buckeyes”) and Walter, who is sympathetic to the buckeyes but feels he must do all he can as he waits for his soul to be taken by O.L.G.A. (The book is full of acronyms. This one is a spaceship.). Only Val is pretty consistently unlikeable.

I probably had to look up more words while reading this novel – all of them medical terms – than any other book I’ve read. This book is interesting for being one of the first books in the wave of seventies sf preoccupied with biology, particularly clones. It also, with its intelligent robots and computers, anticipates modern AI and robotic research in that the nomenclature of the “mechs” parts is biological as is their function.

The novel as a whole seems full of hard science. The biological parts all seem either real or plausible. (I wonder if the idea of the increase in suicides and homicides seen in crowded rats was thought to stem from an allergic brain reaction to the increased presences of dust mites.) The speculation about robots and AIs (more simply presented and not explained unlike the Hive’s biological aspects) is also plausible.

The society of Earth Society, ES, was scary. It’s a world with such an attenuated eco-system that Man is the chief source of protein (along with the occasional rat to spice up the bland paste rations); a world of three trillion four foot, four-toed humans living in squalor (many descriptions of dust filled corridors and rooms and broken machines) in an underground world of casual infanticide, suppressed sexual development, where the citizens are fed promises of a better world in the next reincarnation, where the blow of being de-facto euthanized is softened by the bogus therapy of cryonic suspension to await an unlikely future revival.

Only a few are allowed to be sexually “polarized” – the ES is reminiscent of Huxley’s Brave New World in that castes are biologically designed for certain types of work.

I wonder if the “pyrotherapy” – raising the body temperature to a high degree to kill cancer cells practiced by Toothpick is real. It’s a drastic treatment that kills a third of its patients and cures a third. [Yes, high temperatures are used to kill cancer cells.]

Everyone in the ES is a cannibal. The buckeyes on the surface are seen as garden pests disrupting the precious surface farms. ES is a horrible example of the egalitarian concept of the greatest good for the greatest number (squalor for all) as O.L.G.A notes. Yet, she also notes the Hive-mind is admirably suited to that end. However, it has suppressed the genes humans need to colonize other worlds. Gathering those genes and rebelling against ES is the plot of the novel.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

8 thoughts on “Half Past Human, or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax

  1. I think the scientific language acts primarily as a literary device — there is a poetry to its usage. Thoughts? (this is where I was put off in my review which I wrote so long ago. I think I would reassess this particular point if I were to reread it)

    1. I don’t know. It’s been 20 years since I’ve read it.

      However, given the quotes you presented, I think you may be right. Maybe Bass was trying to rhetorically present a future of such tight management of human biology that the old, vague language of human society is replaced with a precise, functional language. A “We engineer and precisely notice all the things people of the past just lived with and took for granted” sort of approach.

      Alternately, maybe Bass was actually aiming for the poetic and decided the usual imagery and metaphors were tired.

      It could also just be New Wave experimentation, modernist world play that didn’t involve actually inventing words just deploying “weird” ones though, of course, actual medical jargon.

      Just for fun, I looked at Alan E. Nourse’s essay “Extrapolations and Quantum Jumps” in Reginald Bretnor’s The Craft of Science Fiction. Nourse, another medical doctor, doesn’t comment once on Bass’ language and just uses the novel as an example of “quantum jump” in extrapolating the future.

      1. Very true. I just looked up a review on Black Gate which said, “Nebishes and their AIs speak in a language almost devoid of emotive content. Biological events and traumas are described in strictly clinical terms. Not only does it help stress the apparent Nebish lack of emotion about their frailty, it also lends to humorous exchanges . . . “

  2. I love the title and your review leaves me intrigued. I especially appreciate the connection you make to George Clayton Johnson, a figure known to die-hard fans and worthy of broader recognition. I’m working towards helping out in that regard with a graphic novel I’ll be releasing soon on George, his times, and his relevance today.

    1. A graphic novel biography of an sf writer may be a first. Good luck on the project. Logan’s Run is the only George Clayton Johnson work I’ve read.

      1. It is a rare thing. There’s a new graphic novel about Philip K. Dick which should be very good. George knew many of the SF writers of the day. He wrote a number of short stories. He mainly wrote for television. I’m sure you’d enjoy it.

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