Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Half Past Human

T.J. Bass Half Past Human (1971)
I read The Godwhale by the same guy a while back. The Godwhale  was the second of the only two full length novels he wrote. Bass was, or possibly is, some sort of medical geezer, one who has penned a number of serious looking scientific textbooks, and his fiction is heavily informed by a thorough understanding of nutrition intake, codones, phenotypes, mutation, and so on. Accordingly The Godwhale gets off to a frankly astonishing start, describing the miserable existence of future humans sustained by engineered tapeworms inhabiting the sewer pipes of their hive, after which the novel inexplicably dissolves into undifferentiated narrative sludge making it a real struggle to get to that last page. Half Past Human inhabits the same future world of our remote hive-dwelling descendants and, being the first book, it seemed a safe bet. When Bass was good, he was amazing, and he must have done something right if they paid for a second volume of this stuff.

Unfortunately and peculiarly, Half Past Human suffers from the same problems as its sequel, getting off to a great start on a vividly rendered, entirely unfamiliar and seriously weird future Earth. Four-toed humans are crammed into subterranean hives where the dead are recycled as nutrition-rich patties because every little helps, as they say down at Tesco, whilst mechanical agromecks tend crops on the surface, troubled only by small bands of five-toed throwback humans who have reverted to a stone age level of civilisation; and then some other stuff happens for the remaining two thirds of the page count. Some of the other stuff is to do with a robot guitar called Gitar who floats around on his sound box and becomes a major player in the cult of Olga, a pseudo-religious belief system developed from half-remembered knowledge of a colony ship which left Earth many years before; and what I took from this was that not even a fucking robot guitar could save the story.
The craft landed and opened its hatch. Gitar floated out on his peanut magnet's sandwich field. Val nocked an arrow.

'Planning on shooting me?' asked Gitar, pushing the arrow aside with his tractor beam.

What the fuck is a sandwich field? Whilst we're asking, what the blow jobbing sloppy seconds is a peanut magnet when it's at home? This passage appears in the last chapter and it's the first I've heard of either sandwich fields or peanut magnets, although admittedly there may have been some reference I missed whilst zoning out during passages of this general kind:
Walter accepted the massive muscles as a reflection of the physical existence outside the hive. The buckeye's elevated neurohumoral axis resulted in hypertrophy of the vestigial endocrine organs—ten times larger than the Nebish. Kaia's pituitary was so large that Walter could see it with his naked eye. Citizen pituitaries were microscopic. Adipose tissue was almost absent— Cachexia, a Nebish body had a specific gravity of less than 0.85. It always floated. Kaia's body read 1.005. It sank in fresh water.

Well, it would, wouldn't it. Obviously.

The problem is that although it isn't all like that, there's enough of it to get in the way of anything which might actually be trying to tell a story; and so all the hard work which has gone into the kind of science-porn I might find fascinating given a chance, is wasted, resulting in what may as well be derived from a transporter accident involving Richard Dawkins and Mark E. Smith. There's a great book in here somewhere, but then there are forty-seven potentially great books presently sat on my to be read pile which remained untouched whilst I forced myself to finish this shit, and I'm willing to bet that very few of them will present quite such a slog as Half Past Human.

It's probably not so bad as I may have made it sound, but there's a massive margin for how much better it should have been.

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