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REVIEW: Half Past Human by T.J. Bass

REVIEW SUMMARY: Good ideas made inaccessible by dry, unknown-word-laden writing style.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A standup citizen of the overly-complacent underground Hive society gives birth to a “freak” five-toed child, a throwback to years gone by, and longs to escape.

PROS: Interesting ideas; quick-moving story.
CONS: Very dry writing style; hard to make sense out of some of it; I just couldn’t get into this story at all.
BOTTOM LINE: I could not finish this book; I gave up after about 100 pages.

Humans have (d)evolved into “Nebishes”, engineered four-toed citizens of the complacent Hive society. They live underground as they are unable to survive the harsh conditions of the surface. In a reverse-Morlockian twist, the surface is inhabited by the five-toed throwback of eras gone by, the dying race of humans that once were. While the hive citizens are accustomed to automatic mecks (the 70’s spelling for mechs, I guess) and vehicles with artificial intelligence, the surface-dwellers essentially live like cavemen – savages who are struggling, starving and often hunted by the members of the Hive.

Members of the Hive are gender-neutral until assigned one by the Earth Society for reasons that serve that Hive; reasons usually centering on population control. Good idea given there are three billion members of the Hive. Tinker, an exemplary model of a Hive citizen, is assigned the status of Male, mates and has an “unauthorized” offspring – a five toed baby who is destined for the recycle bin. Paternal instincts kick in (thanks to his assignment as a male) and he tries to escape the Hive. Eventually he meets up with old-timer Moon and an artificially intelligent staff (as in meter-long stick) named Toothpick, who are organizing the savage five-toes against the Hive.

There are lots of good ideas in this book (advanced underground society, harsh surface environment, population control, artificial intelligence, computer run society, etc.) but the dry writing style made it really difficult to enjoy. While the story did move quickly, the reading was mired down by lots of made up words that took some time deciphering. I thought the story took a turn for the (much) better when Tinker decided to save the baby and go on the lam, but the strength of that plotline quickly waned. I gave up reading after about 100 pages or so.

This book was nominated for the Nebula award and I was attempting to read this as a precursor to a reading project involving its Nebula-award-nominated sequel, The Godwhale. This bad reading experience does not bode well for the sequel.

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

6 Comments on REVIEW: Half Past Human by T.J. Bass

  1. I couldn’t disagree more with the author of this review. Frankly, if you haven’t finished reading a book, you don’t have any business writing a review about it.

    TJ Bass is a physician in real life, and he often uses medical terminology in his descriptions. The vocabuluary used may not always be familiar to you, but its use is not arbitrary — Bass’s underlying medical knowledge is a critical part of the imaginary world he builds. If you don’t recognize the words he uses from TV medical dramas, pick up a dictionary!

    This book is strange, fascinating, and thoroughly enjoyable. The setting would generally be classified as “dystopian”, but the intent is not to depress the reader. Instead, it challenges the reader to recognize the likely truths about a humanity that follows its current trends to their logical limits. If you can find a copy, I definitely recommend it.

  2. Greg,

    You probably haven’t seen my review criteria, but I “review” unfinished books precisely to capture the information on why I couldn’t finish it; that’s useful information.

    And, as also stated previously, I agree that others should make up their own mind. Just because one reviewer (me included) did not like a book (or movie or whatever), that should not preclude someone from forming their on opinion on the subject.

  3. A reviewer who does not even finish the book, and who complains of made-up words. Name one: I’ll bet you it’s quite real. T J Bass’ medical background shines through all of his work – in one of his short stories the main character has a heart attack, and we get the biomedical breakdown blow-by-blow. So what threw you, serotonin? Neurohumoral axis? Arrow?

    “Dry, unknown-word-laden writing style” – okay, pal. I don’t want to get personal, so I will merely say that you are assessing yourself more than the book, which is perfectly readable, fun and quite memorable.

  4. Most of what you call “made-up words” are actually scientific terminology.

  5. I first read this book (and its sequel The God Whale) in 1976 after finding them on the shelf of the Forest Service crew house in Petersburg Alaska. I found them compelling, interesting and dense with interesting biological and future vision concepts. At the time I suspected the author must be an MD or PHD because of the sophistication of his knowledge of human biology.

    I remembered them years later while in medical school myself and found copies at a used book store. Rereading them revealed concepts and humor that I had missed as a forestry bio-tech.

    Now, re-reading them 30 years after crew house days, the story, characters, and concepts remain as compelling as ever. The author is to be congratulated on his unique combination of knowledge, vision, and an engaging writing style.

  6. A more comprehensive and accurate review is posted here:

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