REVIEW: The Godwhale by T.J. Bass

REVIEW SUMMARY: Interesting ideas but hard to get into it.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An episodic story of the above-ground Rebels who fight the underground Hive society.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interesting ideas; quick-moving story.
CONS: One-dimensional characters; very dry writing style and lots of made-up verbiage made for slow reading;
BOTTOM LINE: I slipped into speed-reading mode just to get through it.


The Nebula award nominated The Godwhale is a sequel of Half Past Human, another Nebula nominated book. Half Past Human was a book I unfortunately could not bring myself to finish. The Godwhale fared a little better – I finished it, but there was a lot of speed-reading involved.

Set in the interesting Hive society of the previous book, The Godwhale revolves around a different set of characters.

Larry Dever suffers an unfortunate accident that removes him from his lower extremities. He is put into suspension until a suitable solution can be found for his predicament. He is later revived to preserve his archaically pure genes for the purposes of man’s colonization of space and is fitted with a sentient mannequin lower half. This is not and acceptable fate for Larry who longs for some real (and interactive) companionship, so he re-enters suspension only to emerge in the Hive society, a mannequin-less “hemihuman”.

Larry meets up with Big Har, a biological reject accidentally spared from death. Harlan escapes a repeat fate by becoming a Tweenwaller, living between the walls that form of the complacent underground Hive society. Together they long to escape the society that has rejected them and aim to emerge on the harsh surface of Earth. (As does the separate storyline of Drum, a Hive citizen facing a retirement in suspension or working in the sewers).

Meanwhile the cyborg harvester whale known as Rorqual Maru, whose purpose is to serve mankind, becomes washed ashore while mankind has evolved into the Hive society and moved underground. She (at least, I think it’s a she) finally sends her remote meck Trilobite to search for signs of life. Trilobite meets up with outside (and underwater) dwellers and, since it refers to the whale as deity, Rorqual Maru is offered to them as a God. Eventually, Rorqual Maru becomes controlled by the members of the Hive and must be reclaimed by the renegade band of Outsiders consisting of Trilobite, Larry, Big Har, Drum, and a renegade sex-machine clone of Larry Deever named ARNOLD.

Like Half Past Human, The Godwhale offers some great ideas but suffers from poor execution. The writing style is dry and many invented and undecipherable words are bandied about and it takes too much time to figure them out. Although the storyline moves quickly, the verbiage just slowed me down. One-dimensional characters didn’t help much either. And the scene involving Larry (I think he was Centaur Larry at the time) having sex with the slot machine was just silly. Eventually, I slipped into speed-reading mode just to get through it.

15 thoughts on “REVIEW: The Godwhale by T.J. Bass”

  1. Well well well. Looks like the candidate for my pick for the Hugo is becoming clearer. But, at the risk of not being labled a reactionary fanboy, I’ll make my decision after reading the Bass books. They’ll have to be rather awful before I quit reading them though.

  2. So John, this is how it starts? You turn in a Klosner-ian effort?

    I suppose you can now say I’m done reading all of them – I read the titles, but couldn’t get through all of the works themselves.

  3. No, no – If this was a Klausnerian effort, I wouldn’t have bothered to open the book. I’d have just re-stated the blurb on the back cover. :)

    You already know this, but, in general, I have not had much success enjoying award-nominated or award-winning books. This is just another one I’d lump into that pile.

  4. Not that I would compare John to Superman, but much the same way you never saw Superman and Clark Kent together, you never seem to see Klausner and John at the same time . . . coincidence? Hmmmm . . . perhaps not . . .

  5. The Godwhale is one of my all-time favourite books.

    What a shallow and useless review! The reviewer even admits he didn’t read the book!

    And “I can’t understand this sci-fi book because of made-up words” ?????

    I mean, have you EVER read ANY sci-fi? Name one sci-fi title without any made up names or words!

    Larry Dever’s sex with the slot-machine Rusty was the final part of Larry accepting he was half-machine and that he would never be “repaired”. If the reviewer was too juvenile to see beyond the “sex” and read any of the sub-text then it’s clear he should be reviewing car-manuals and not sci-fi.

    I give this book FIVE STARS and if you can get hold of a copy from Amazon, eBay or a second hand book shop, then do so.

    Larry Dever is cut in half in an accident during a dystopian period of Earth’s future and chooses to go into suspended animation to await medical technology that could repair him. He awakes in the far future to find that he is wanted for his “old” genes and that he will be repaired to help mankind colonise the stars, but when he finds his clone must be killed to repair him, he chooses to return to suspension.

    When awakened again to find he’s about to be “recycled”, Larry escapes into the Hive, finding mankind is living in an overcrowded underground society with the planets surface a garden harvested by robots to feed the Hive. The Seas are sterile, but not empty.

    Larry and one of his clones, Harlan, escape to “the outside” and find the benthic tribes, survivors of the earlier human race. With these people Larry & Har meet the plankton rake Rorqual Maru and so begin the voyages of the Godwhale, where Larry Dever continues his quest to regain his lost humanity.

  6. Gee, Anthony, are we talking about the same review?

    “The reviewer even admits he didn’t read the book!”

    Errrr…no…John wrote:

    “The Nebula award nominated The Godwhale is a sequel of Half Past Human, another Nebula nominated book. Half Past Human was a book I unfortunately could not bring myself to finish. The Godwhale fared a little better – I finished it, but there was a lot of speed-reading involved.”

    So he did read it. He admits he had difficulty reading it, but he did read it.

    And…

    “And “I can’t understand this sci-fi book because of made-up words” ?????”

    If you are going to quote, how about using the real quote? John said “The writing style is dry and many invented and undecipherable words are bandied about and it takes too much time to figure them out.” not what you allegedly quoted

    He also said “Like Half Past Human, The Godwhale offers some great ideas but suffers from poor execution.”

    Everybody is entitled to an opinion. John happens to disagree with your opinion. Given his experience in writing reviews, I’d tend to go with his “shallow” style more than yours (which ignores facts, ignores the writing, misquotes, etc.).

  7. I have actually read the book, understood the words and found the experience quite refreshing. If any of you do not want his other work “Half Past Human” then please contact me david@aesica.wanadoo.co.uk and l shall give you my postal address, obviously l will pay p&p.

  8. On this review in particular – and on reviews in general – I offer this from C. S. Lewis’s ON STORIES (a collection of essays).

    “For I am convinced that good adverse criticism is the most difficult thing we have to do. I would advise everyone to begin it under the most favourable conditions: this is, where you thoroughly know and heartily like the thing the author is trying to do, and have enjoyed many books where it was done well. Then you will have some chance of really showing that he has failed and perhaps even of showing why. But if our real reaction to a book is “Ugh! I just can’t bear this sort of thing,” then I think we shall not be able to diagnose whatever real faults it has. We may labour to conceal our emotion, but we shall end in a welter of emotive, unanalysed, vogue-words–“arch”, “facetious”, “bogus”, “adolescent”, “immature”, and the rest. When we really know what is wrong we need none of these.”

    I believe this applies to the posted review of T. J. Bass’s novel. Sorry, Mr. John, but REALLY … once you decided you didn’t like it and could not appreciate it and did not want to appreciate it – you should have put it down. Books (and other creative works) are not like basketball teams – they don’t come from behind in the forth quarter to pull the game out of the bag. Once they’ve lost you, they’ve lost the game. So be it. To force yourself to finish a book out of some misplaced sense of “reviewer’s responsibility” is like having sex with someone who repulses you as a painful duty – it is a dirty, dangerous job – but NO ONE has to do it.

    And no one should. It does a dis-service to the book, to the (potential reader and to the reviewer and his sensibilities. Better to move on and leave the review to someone else.

    This is not to dismiss your review entirely – it’s just to say you did all you could when you said you didn’t like it.

    As to the rest … well, “invented words” in SF is a problem? I’m going to make a guess that you get a real brain-burnout when someone puts a Jack Vance book in your hand, hmmm? And, BTW – are you familiar with the origins of the term “Waldoes” for arm-extension manipulators and factory robotics? Jeopardy question Hint hint hint: dead authors for $200, R. Anson H. … answer: who is “The Dean Of American Science Fiction”?

    also, I think I should point out that most of Dr. Bass’s “invented and undecipherable words” happen to be standard medical terminology. Their application is original and exciting. The creative use of physiological terminology in descriptions of behavior infuses the consciousness of the receptive reader with the world-view of this novel. This constant reminder that these characters are living beings – animals interacting with a particular ecology – enriches the content, mnoves the story along, develops the ubnderlying theme and informs the reader along the way. This narrative technique is richly creative and powerful – and in no way “poorly executed”.

    I would also like to mention that the review gets many specifics of the book wrong. (One example alone – Rorqual Maru does not “become washed ashore” – he begins the book half-buried in a sandbar and subsequently frees himself.) Speed-reading (as was confessed by the reviewer) while in a pre-determined rejection mode is no way to assimilate a book to the level where you can write a review.

    For those of you who might be interested in the book itself (as opposed to the posted review):

    T. J. Bass’s two novels, HALF PAST HUMAN and THE GODWHALE are superb and superbly relevant novels of ecological dystopias. With great skill and great artistry, he tells a classic science fiction story in the classic science fiction way: he engages great themes through the trials and tribulations of distinct individuals about whom we come to care. We travel through this strange yet strangely familiar world with them, rooting for and against them as he leads us (without pushing us). Even his artificial intelligences live in their own particular way – not easy to pull off without making a reductive choice between HAL and ET – and as a class of beings fit and fit in their fictional environment.

    If I have to fault the books on anything it is this: Bass does superb job of designing a human sub-species evolved and genetically engineered for “hive” living (which in SF does not mean an instinctual pseudo-telepathy such as bees and ants have so much as just the usual neo-Malthusian/pseudo-Darwinian fantasy of adjustments to super-over-crowding in an ultra-tech urban environment, with appropriate behavioral adjustments). But he never gets inside THOSE characters. The ones who enter “play” as characters and not background have s psychological makeup; the nebbishes (his term for standard four-toed hive citizens) think, respond and behave as regular competitive contemporary humans would in like situations. The rest fade into the background. And while that fade effect is quite effective for setting the ambience of the hive overall, the alien-ness of theses variations on the human (“Half-past Human” humans) is only observed and described from the outside. The deepest he gets into it is the physiological. Riveting and persuasive as these descriptions are, they are not enough when these creatures are put up against more HUMAN humans.

    I don’t suggest any dismissal of the books on this basis; this is a minor caveat on a major general issue in Science Fiction – the difficulty of creating a truly alien psychology while at the same time persuasively presenting its viability. Niven has tried and tried and tried – and did best with FOOTFALL’s Heffalumps (a better name than the one humans use for the Fithp in the book, I claim). Mostly however what we tend to get are warmed over reductions of Samurai (C. J. Cherryh in book after book) in Kitty-Cat costumes (the Kzin, who have progressively become more and more clich

  9. Folks,

    I read these two books in 1976 and I still remember them. Contained in these two books is one idea that will change our society. THE killer app, in computer terms. I will not tell you what it is but even in 1976, I realised if one thing that exists in these books could be made to exist, each of us would never be the same. These are tremendous books. I was not concerned with elements of the fictional presentation that are less than perfect. I agree with the reviewer that Bass is not a perfect writer. But as a thinker, he is unmatched. As a software developer, I have carried in my mind for all these decades the dream to do what was described in these books. If you don’t see it, then you will one day.

  10. What a shame the reviewer did not understand the text or any of the sub-text and I wonder if they have given thought to any sci fi at all!

    As the writer above I read the Godwhale back in the seventies and like he it has stayed with me.

    I too agree that though the writing may be a little ordinary, though when the book was written should be taken in to account.

    It does give a glimpse in to a future that may still happen after all we are now playing with building our new world ‘atom up’ so genetic engineering and human manipulation is on us and in front of us.

    Bass was a very forward thinker and I think that later writers have tapped in to his psyche if not his ideas I’m sure the ‘Arnolds’ have turned up else ware eh!

  11. Hello all

    What a shame the reviewer did not understand the text or any of the sub-text and I wonder if they have given thought to any sci fi at all!

    As the writer above I read the Godwhale back in the seventies and like he it has stayed with me.

    I too agree that though the writing may be a little ordinary, though when the book was written should be taken in to account.

    It does give a glimpse in to a future that may still happen after all we are now playing with building our new world ‘atom up’ so genetic engineering and human manipulation is on us and in front of us.

    Bass was a very forward thinker and I think that later writers have tapped in to his psyche if not his ideas I’m sure the ‘Arnolds’ have turned up else ware eh!

  12. Hello all

    What a shame the reviewer did not understand the text or any of the sub-text and I wonder if they have given thought to any sci fi at all!

    As the writer above I read the Godwhale back in the seventies and like he it has stayed with me.

    I too agree that though the writing may be a little ordinary, though when the book was written should be taken in to account.

    It does give a glimpse in to a future that may still happen after all we are now playing with building our new world ‘atom up’ so genetic engineering and human manipulation is on us and in front of us.

    Bass was a very forward thinker and I think that later writers have tapped in to his psyche if not his ideas I’m sure the ‘Arnolds’ have turned up else ware eh!

    :)

  13. Yeah John, I too, am upset you didn’t understand the text or the sub-text. For shame.

    Next you’ll tell me Blade Runner is boring…

  14. I am so glad to find this. I read this I think back in the early 80’s and the Rorqual Maru has always stuck with me even after, lol forgeting the title and the author. I read furiously in those days and devoured many Nebula and Award Stories Seven winners. I recalled that the Hive humans were called “Benthicks?” or am I wrong about that. And while I am not a lterary academic I know what I am reading and I found the story intriguing in my inexperienced youth. Oh the spongy absorbant nature of youthful grey matter. And I agree with you Andy, thanks

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