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The Godwhale (S.F. MASTERWORKS) by T. J.…

The Godwhale (S.F. MASTERWORKS) (original 1974; edition 2014)

by T. J. Bass

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255444,916 (3.63)13
Title:The Godwhale (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Authors:T. J. Bass
Info:Gollancz (2014), Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:2014 challenge

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The Godwhale by T. J. Bass (1974)



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My reaction to reading this novel in 1998. Spoilers follow.

This book is allegedly, according to its back blurb, a sequel to the earlier written Half Past Human. In the dense prose, I really couldn’t get any clues as to internal chronology. As I recall, the oceans in Half Past Human were lifeless, and the Procyon Implant reseeds them in this novel. There is also a reference to Dan, a dog with golden teeth, which could refer to the dog of Half Past Human. His leptoscul records (the least scientifically convincing aspect of the book) are said to be ancient. On the other hand, the buckeyes of Half Past Human are hardly mentioned.

The plots of both books are roughly the same. Outsiders (here the Benthic dwellers who have adapted to living by and below the sea via knowledge and leftover technology – presumably from the days the Hive tried to settle in the seas – alluded to in the earlier novel) fight the Hive with the help of rebels and castoffs from ES. As in the earlier novel, an old space probe, K.A.R.L., shows up at the end – though as a derelict and not to save the day – the oceans are seeded early on. Both books even end by mentioning an equation.

ARNOLD grumbles that he’d rather be an accident of nature than a product of design. To be sure, the character types are not repeated. Larry Dever is a cyborg crippled in the days pre-ES who hopes to be cured when taken out of cryonic suspension. ES thaws him out – and then, in one of the several black humor episodes of the book, won’t fix him and demands he down “Euthanasia Liquor”. He refuses and takes up residence in the squalid “Tweenwall” society of ES. There he links up with Har, a reject from the “Embryolab” who was to be briefly used as therapy for a hebephrenic schizophrenic woman before being recycled as Protein. Intelligent mechs (it’s still unclear if their parts are really organic – the Hive is skilled at biological engineering – or just referred to with biological nomenclature) play a big part, particularly Rorqual Mara, titular cyborg of the title, last of a fleet of plankton harvesters back in the days when there was marine life for the Hive to harvest. There is Drum, who has his retirement cut short, and Chess Grandmother Ode, who looses an election (a diabolically clever egalitarian notion where, if at least five people don’t vote for you, you loose your ration of shelter and food). They work their way up from the sewers – literally – to become important players in the struggle between the Hive and Benthics. There is ARNOLD, engineered warrior who turns on the Hive.

Bass’ prose is dense. This novel has the breaks clearly marked so transitions between scenes are much clearer. The science of both robotics, cloning, genetic engineering, and medical details all strike me as plausible. (The “memory molecules” probably stem from the belief, in the early seventies, that RNA molecules encoded memory.) Bass’ prose doesn’t work as well for describing naval battles as it did describing the earlier novels descriptions of hunts for “garden pests”.

An enjoyable, hard sf novel that I liked a lot more than I thought I would. ( )
  RandyStafford | Sep 18, 2013 |
A mixed bag. High-concept SF with what could've been another 1970's overpopulation yarn. Despite the title, the Godwhale is just one gear in the plot machine. Far more inventive are the Hives (first described in Bass' Half-Past Human), underground multi-tiered masses of humanity recycling all protein, no matter what source, and emitting noxious waste out to a (mostly) dead Earth. 19 is old age in the Hive. In small domes in the sea (almost mostly dead) live the Benthic humans, scavenging what they can from the Hive gardens. The ecology and everyday life of both environments is well-developed and engrossing, as well as out-grossing.

The novel is weak on plot structure and character development. New characters are introduced in every chapter till near the end, and all speak pretty much the same sophisticated medical talk. Major leaps in time occur frequently. Much happens and it all ties together in the end, but this is not an adventure but framework of events for presenting a range of interesting ideas. ( )
1 vote ChrisRiesbeck | Jul 15, 2010 |
I liked this book. It spans more than 2.000 years and discribes a post-apocalyptical society where the oceans have died and man is living underground and off rats, insects and himself. Why man is living underground is a mystery. There seems to be no clear reason to.

This is one of the central problems of this book (if you want to look for problems): I often found myself wondering "Why?" when the plot twisted. All is well-written but it often takes a leap of faith to follow and accept the way the plot evolves. Sorrowly this also meant for me, that I had difficulties with empathizing with the main characters. They kept shifting around as the plot needed them to and therefore became two-dimensional and unreal. At several points this meant for instance that characters who had up to that point been discribed as "degenerates" were suddenly discussing biochemistry or computer science at an extremely advanced level.

But I liked this book. I am just left feeling, that a better writer could have turned this story into one of the great Scifi's. It has the makings of a classic. As it is it is just a good book. ( )
  BrianLundgaard | Oct 11, 2009 |
The Godwhale is way ahead of it's time in it's use of biotech, and it reads sort of like a Vonnegut novel, with more real science. It's a grim, satiric view of humanity set in a future when the earth is polluted to the point where the surface has been unhospitable for centuries and, the majority of humankind live underground and are gene engineered for specific tasks. The food source is processed from the scavenger worms that live on human sewage.
The Godwhale of the title is a giant plankton harvesting robotship from earlier times when the oceans of the earth still teemed with life. The Robotship has been inactive for centuries and is only now,at the time the novel takes place, reactivating, because the seas are starting to come alive again.

A unique novel by a writer who only wrote 2 novels -the other being Half Past Human, which takes place in the same universe. Thomas Bassler is better known now as a fitness doctor.
This was up for a Nebula. One of my favorite SF novels of all time. Check it out. ( )
  arthurfrayn | Jun 20, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
T. J. Bassprimary authorall editionscalculated
Burns, JimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lehr, PaulCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sparks, RichardCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sweet, Darrell K.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Larry Dever knelt in darkness at East Gate, knees in damp gravel and hands on cold granular bars.
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