The Godwhale

While I work on a new series of posts about James Gunn, you get this one.

Raw Feed (1998): The Godwhale, T. J. Bass, 1974.

Cover by Darrel K. Sweet

This book is allegedly, according to its back blurb, a sequel to the earlier written Half Past Human.

In the dense prose, I really couldn’t get any clues as to internal chronology. As I recall, the oceans in Half Past Human were lifeless, and the Procyon Implant reseeds them in this novel.

There is also a reference to Dan, a dog with golden teeth, which could refer to the dog of Half Past Human. His leptoscul records (the least scientifically convincing aspect of the book) are said to be ancient.

On the other hand, the buckeyes of Half Past Human are hardly mentioned.

The plots of both books are roughly the same.

Outsiders (here the Benthic dwellers who have adapted to living by and below the sea via knowledge and leftover technology – presumably from the days the Hive tried to settle in the seas – alluded to in the earlier novel) fight the Hive with the help of rebels and castoffs from ES.

As in the earlier novel, an old space probe, K.A.R.L., shows up at the end – though as a derelict and not to save the day – the oceans are seeded early on. 

Both books even end by mentioning an equation – gy=c (Earth’s gravitational acceleration times its year equals the speed of light). I don’t know if this is an observation/invention of Bass or an element of cosmological thinking from the seventies (the anthropocentric notion of the universe is mentioned). ARNOLD grumbles that he’d rather be an accident of nature than a product of design.

To be sure, the character types are not repeated.

Larry Dever is a cyborg crippled in the days pre-ES who hopes to be cured when taken out of cryonic suspension. ES thaws him out – and then, in one of the several black humor episodes of the book, won’t fix him and demands he down “Euthanasia Liquor”.  He refuses and takes up residence in the squalid “Tweenwall” society of ES.  There he links up with Har, a reject from the “Embryolab” who was to be briefly used as therapy for a hebephrenic schizophrenic woman before being recycled as Protein.

Intelligent mechs (it’s still unclear if their parts are really organic – the Hive is skilled at biological engineering – or just referred to with biological nomenclature) play a big part, particularly Rorqual Mara, titular cyborg of the title, last of a fleet of plankton harvesters back in the days when there was marine life for the Hive to harvest.

There is Drum, who has is retirement cut short, and Chess Grandmother Ode, who loose an election (a diabolically clever egalitarian notion where, if at least five people don’t vote for you, you loose your ration of shelter and food). They work their way up from the sewers – literally – to become important players in the struggle between the Hive and Benthics.

There is ARNOLD, engineered warrior who turns on the Hive.

Bass’s prose is dense. This novel has the breaks clearly marked so transitions between scenes are much clearer.

The science of both robotics, cloning, genetic engineering, and medical details all strike me as plausible. (The “memory molecules” probably stem from the belief, in the early seventies, that RNA molecules encoded memory.) Bass’s prose doesn’t work as well for describing naval battles as it did describing the earlier novels descriptions of hunts for “garden pests”.

An enjoyable, hard sf novel that I liked a lot more than I thought I would.


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