Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book of the Week

I've become a regular at Pegasus Books in West Seattle. Prone to spending inordinate discretionary hours at used booksellers, I've a special weakness for those that stock rare and quirky science fiction paperbacks. The owner is an aficionado of the genre and unerringly points me toward quality stuff. Half Past Human is no exception.

Author T.J. Bass was a pathologist in his "real" life and wrote only a couple novels, both connected on a Hive planet that may or may not be Earth of the future. The predominant race of Nebishes live underground, while the sun-scorched surface is farmed by mecks. Pockets of Buckeyes engage in ancient mystical practices and lure several characters to their mountain keep over the course of the book. Other than this, a discernible plot is lacking. Instead we spend most of the book exploring the different social attitudes and structures of the planet, told with an economic voice that plays with language. Though puns are generally to be avoided in fantastic stories, here they are employed tactfully and to good effect.

So many scenes stand out to mention, but I'll restrict myself to the first that caught my interest. For the first thirty or so pages I was uncertain of continuing, bewildered by the lack of a protagonist. One curious episode followed another, with characters coming and going. Slowly thing began coming together and a structure started forming. Then one of the characters got new teeth. So did his dog.

Moon and Dan, basically a caveman and his mutt, subsist on soft fruits. Neither has any teeth, but their "temporal clocks" have been turned off, which means they will live a long time. Their gums are hard, painful ridges. When they encounter a Nebish named Tinker, he immediately offers to fix their teeth and promptly goes to work. One page and six months later, man and beast are outfitted with golden teeth! Once this happens, the incident is never again referred to, the book moving on to another curious and charming event.

Maybe this sounds strange, and it is. I fell under the spell of the book after acclimating to its odd rhythm and flow -not so surprising since I am increasingly drawn toward sci-fi like this.

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