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. Continue reading “Half Past Human, or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax”

City of Endless Night

Review: City of Endless Night, Milo Hastings, 1920.City of Endless Night

Yes, I was walking in Utopia, a nightmare at the end of man’s long dream – Utopia – Black Utopia – City of Endless Night – diabolically compounded of the three elements of civilization in which the Germans had always been supreme – imperialism, science and socialism.

It’s the year 2151. The German state, after sweeping through Eurasia and the Middle East in the Second World War which began in 1988, has been pushed back to the Armoured City of Berlin. The Ray, a weapon that calcifies bones, keeps the armies of the World State at bay. Aerial bombing cannot harm the vast underground fortress, the Black Utopia, which holds 300 million Germans.

But one man, Lyman de Forrest, a student of German culture and language from Chicago, penetrates its upper depths, impersonates one of its chemists, and learns its secrets. But should he destroy it with his knowledge? Or attempt to bring it into the larger family of the World State?

Hastings’ novel is an astonishing novel on several levels. Continue reading “City of Endless Night”

Eric S. Rabkin’s Science Fiction Lectures

As a consumer of the Great Courses lectures, I’ve looked at Eric S. Rabkin’s Masterpieces of the Imaginative Mind: Literature’s Most Fantastic Works for a few years. But somewhere in the back of my mind I had the idea — maybe from paging through something he had written, that he was a dry writer full of tedious literary theory.

I was mostly right.

However, amongst all the Freudian references (how can anyone still use the old fraud’s theories for any literature written before he published his work?), post-modernism, and symbolism (does no one see that the surface details of a story can be worth studying?), there are some things of value. Maybe even enough to justify its current selling price of $29.95.

For me the deck didn’t really get cleared for service until lecture six, “H. G. Wells: We Are All Talking Animals”. The idea is proposed that The Island of Dr. Moreau is told by an unreliable narrator. (Personally, I see it as Wells’ unintended satire on the folly of blank-slatism. The flesh, in other words biological drives and identity, can not be molded by the surgery of Moreau’s mini-island state.)

It’s sort of a semi-arid spell to lecture 14, “Mary Shelley: Grandmother of Science Fiction”, where Rabkin puts forth the idea, I think plausible, that Frankenstein is about the dangers of putting yourself outside of the human community. Doctor Frankenstein choses to exile himself. His creation has no choice.

“Hawthorne, Poe, and the Eden Complexion” among other things talks about how Poe used the rhetoric of science (passive voice, precise and objectively quantified details) and romanticism.

“Wells — Industrialization of the Fantastic” actually convinces me that there are several Christian symbols in The War of the Worlds. (We are increasingly entering an age where people have to have even basic biblical allusions explained. In my English major days, a professor rightly said every one of us should have read the King James Bible so we knew the sources of allusions and phrases. If you were studying medieval lit, you had to read large chunks of the Catholic Vulgate.)

“The History of Utopia” actually mentioned in passing a couple of titles I hadn’t heard of and made Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We sound more interesting than it is (though it’s an important predecessor to more famous dystopias). However, I don’t buy the assertion that Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan was a response to Thomas More’s Utopia.

“Science Fiction and Religion” is a good (and too brief) look at an important topic.

“Asimov and Clarke — Cousins in Utopia” provoked the thought that Judaism was a more important influence on Isaac Asimov than I thought. His Three Laws of Robotics (which he actually credited to John W. Campbell, Jr.) is rather rabbinical. And I certainly agree that Asimov was a believer in technoutopia. That seems to me a manifestation of the Jewish belief they should work to perfect the world. The theme of machines to beneficially manage our affairs is there in Asimov’s robot stories. But (and Rabkin doesn’t mention this) Asimov’s essay “By the Numbers” endorses the idea of rule by impersonal, bureaucratic computers.

“Cyberpunk, Postmodernism, and Beyond” is very wrong-headed. The influence of the spy and noir genres — John Le Carre and Dashiell Hammett– seem as important to William Gibson as postmodernism not to mention the fact that Samuel R. Delany’s Babel-17‘s opening paragraph is rather similar to Neuromancer (and Gibson is a Delany fan). Claude Shannon’s information theory and digital technology, the idea that information can be easily recorded, edited, combined, analyzed, and synthesized, I contend is more important than literary theory to cyberpunk. On the other hand, Rabkin does make the intriguing observation that the plot and images of Neuromancer closely follow T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”.