it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

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if i was scared. i was. if i was pure. you know i was. and if i was yours. but i'm not.

Science fiction writer T.J. Bass (Thomas J. Bassler, MD) has died, aged 79. He was the author of The Godwhale, a book that impressed me so deeply as a young fan that I did a fifth-grade book report complete with shadowbox diorama of Larry Dever and A.R.N.O.L.D. in the Rorqual Maru's map room.

The Godwhale was a direct spiritual heir to Logan's Run and Stand on Zanzibar, but with a biological and medical focus.

In the cold light of the future, there's a lot problematic about the book and especially its handling of sexual violence and of female characters (other than the eponymous Rorqual Maru herself, who gets out of the loop of unexamined sexist assumptions* by virtue of being a ship who is also a bioengineered whale and how cool is that?), but I think its worldview and its evocative images of a future in which a vastly overinflated human population scrapes out a miserable, tightly systematized existence on the blasted, biologically sterile earth had a profound effect on my own work, from "Tideline" to All the Windwracked Stars.

He had a spare, graphic, brutal style, and he wrote a convincing world in which basically decent people did impossibly monstrous things because they were human and weak and took the easy path. The Godwhale is that rarest of forms: real science fiction horror, which draws its terrifying verisimilitude not from monsters from space... but because real people really are like this, and really do do these terrible things just this nonchalantly and negligently... but they also have a capacity for heroism and beauty that is even more stunning by comparison.

I had no idea he was still alive, he stopped publishing so long ago. There is one sentence in The Godwhale that I still hear in my head on a regular basis. I still think it's matched for pure, spare horror by little else in the genre:

The air you are breathing belongs to somebody else.

*and in fairness, there's enough undermining of some of the Conan Fantasy Tropes that get brought up from the point of view of a mild-mannered scientist that I cannot say they are the author's unexamined assumptions, rather than those of the characters, one of whom has been genetically and behaviorally programmed by a very fucked-up society to be the quote unquote Primitive Man in a manner reminiscent of Richard K. Morgan's Black Man, although forty years earlier.
Tags: obituaries
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