1971 Nebula Nominated Novel
T.J. Bass’ Half Past Human is a flawed yet occasionally intriguing fix-up novel which was nominated for the 1971 Nebula Award. I found that the atrocious prose overshadowed all the work’s positives and made it a chore to read. Bass is a practicing doctor and thus apparently finds it fun to inundate his narrative with medical terminology.
Some particularly atrocious examples:
“Willie froze. Little warning reflexes were activated deep in his basal ganglia — thoracolumbar autonomics flared” (158).
“Myotonia and vasocongestion of the breasts — she was well into the excitement phase” (153).
“She had an ovum waiting in her tense follicle and had selected young Moses to fertilize it. Her estrogen flushed body respoded to the presence of Moses — a sexually mature male. Homologous erectile tissue in her nasal septum swelled… Capillary beads became engorged producing a maculapapular rash over her trunk” (123).
If this technique was applied in a more limited fashion it *might* have added to the general feel of the work — however, simply put, it is a frustrating distraction and a failed attempt at originality.
Brief Plot Summary
Future Earth has been transformed for the sole purpose of feeding a massive population. Science has created a four-toed docile/”programmable”/and communal Nebish (still a “human” — or perhaps, a humanoid). Trillions of Nebishes live in gigantic shaft cities with the surrounding farmable countryside (the Garden) operated by programmable mecks. The shaft cities recycle all human waste, the dead humans, etc and are crowded and overpopulated. Depending on the usefulness of various citizens the shaft cities supply the Molecular Reward and calorie allotments. The Nebishes are “polarized” at various points in their lives when they need to take on a specific gender.
Not all humans are Nebishes. The five-toed varieties, called buckeyes, wander the surrounding fields. The buckeyes are not all that superior to the Nebishes for they resort to cannibalism etc and live in primitive huts. Drugged Nebish hunters continuously prey on the buckeyes and take back their bodies as trophies.
The novel follows a group of characters both buckeye and Nebish. Tinker, a Nebish, is polarized at the order of the government. After his wife gives birth to an illegal child he escapes with his family to a buckeye village. Moon (a buckeye) and his dog Dan wander the countryside with Toothpick, an unusual mechanical being with a mysterious purpose. Various other characters wander in an out at will. None are particularly easy to emphasize with and when we finally do, Tinker for example, they don’t appear again for another hundred pages.
There’s a mysterious cult of Olga…
Unusual pied piper mechanical beings…
Half Past Human is plagued with the primary flaws of a fix-up novel — poor pacing. The plot moves in no particular direction for the first 130 pages and then speeds up exponentially at the point where another novella was stitched in.
However, despite the atrocious prose and poor pacing Half Past Human is not completely without merit. I found Bass’ unusual approach to mechanical beings particularly intriguing. I also found his refusal to make the external buckeye society a utopian society — they are squalid and eat the dead Nebish hunters — an interesting choice.
But, my overall impression is a negative one. If you’re in the mood for mucking through a biology textbook lexicon in order to get at one of two ideas then go ahead…