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.