An Atomic Moo Book Review of TJ Bass’s Half Past Human!
Original Review by Neko-Bijin!
“So Neko, do you ever review a book that’s still in print?”
Yes, smartypants, I do! It so happens that T J Bass’ Half Past Human (1970) was reprinted last year, and I’m giving it a thumbs-up. Bass saw the future, and it was disgusting! Overcrowding and poor nutrition created a human race of stunted dwarfs living underground among rats (which are hunted for food). Also hunted are the handful of wild humans living outdoors. If you’ve read The Machine Stops (1909) or Brave New World, or seen THX 1138 or Logan’s Run, you know that the story will be driven by a handful of mavericks who forsake the Human Hive to live free in the dangerous wild. But somewhere around page 150 the book takes a left turn into Biblical metaphor, complete with a Cosmic Benevolence and a New Zion.
The science fiction of the 1970s was about constraints. Limits on populations size, energy use, and radiation tolerance drove the speculation. There are plenty of strange science fiction books dealing with Biological Determinism, ecological degradation, human evolution and the Noble Savage, but Half Past Human isn’t satire. The author appears earnestly to believe in his vision of the future, and he fills it with enough unsettling detail to make This Reader believe also, if only for a while. The best science fiction transports you, and then doesn’t bring you all the way back.
Moral problems are proposed and immediately disposed; infanticide, cannibalism, hypnotic conditioning, etc, simply don’t matter much weighed against the teeming mass of 3 trillion hungry stomachs.
T J Bass was a medical doctor who also wrote The Godwhale (1974) which is less a sequel than a rewrite of Half Past Human with a more humorous air. The books are peppered with medical in-jokes that leaven the seriousness of the prose (e.g., A character called Hip is mocked as the Ass at Tabulum, a pun on acetabulum). To follow everything in the story you’ll need a medical dictionary handy. So don’t plan on catching everything, just read and enjoy. They don’t make ’em like this anymore. They never did.