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Half Past Human by T. J. Bass
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Half Past Human (1971)

by T. J. Bass

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My reaction to reading this novel in1998. Spoilers follow.

This book belongs to a subgenre that includes Yevgeny Zamyaten’s We, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, George 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 his 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 anything 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 the 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 homocides seen in crowded rats was thought to stem from an allergic brain reaction to the increased presences of dust mites), and the of speculation about robots and AIs (more simply presented and not explained unlike the Hive’s biological aspects). The society of Earth Society was scary. 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 tall, 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 (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), 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, where everyone is a cannibal, and where 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 OLGA 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. ( )
  RandyStafford | Sep 17, 2013 |
Very strange book. I knew it was going to be great just for the rampant and unapologetic misogyny (women here were treated like little more than walking uteruses- thanks 1971!) but somewhere in reading it I actually started to get into the story. It wasn't until the end that I realized what was really going on, and I'm sure I'll read this one again in the future. Very bizarre future underground society written by a pathologist that obviously found it amusing to slip medical terminology into every sentence. ( )
  marctic | May 2, 2009 |
Very strange book. I knew it was going to be great just for the rampant and unapologetic misogyny (women here were treated like little more than walking uteruses- thanks 1971!) but somewhere in reading it I actually started to get into the story. It wasn't until the end that I realized what was really going on, and I'm sure I'll read this one again in the future. Very bizarre future underground society written by a pathologist that obviously found it amusing to slip medical terminology into every sentence. ( )
  marc2008 | Nov 15, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
T. J. Bassprimary authorall editionscalculated
McInnerney, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
Deep in the Shaft-cities lived three trillion creatures, once human and still calling themselves homo sapiens. But they were small, bred to size in fact, as they were bred for various kinds of 'work' for even in their almost totally automated culture they had to be kept busy. Like ants. But things were going wrong. The machines weren't getting it all right any more they were even breaking down sometimes. While Outside, there were Others - who waited...
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Tinker was a good citizen of the Hive - a model worker. But when he was allowed sexual activation he found Mu Ren who, like him, harboured forbidden genes. And so began the cataclysm. But in a world where half-wild humans are hunted for sport - and food - can anyone overthrow the Hive? Greater by far than its stunted, pink-blooded citizens, the Hive is more than prepared to rise and crush anyone who challenges its supremacy...… (more)

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