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bear by san

March 2017

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lion in winter dead

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.

Comments

i.. have not read this. obviously i shall have to
This.
I have Half-Past Human on my shelf, which I gather is from the same story universe... time to give it a re-read, and perhaps track down Godwhale in the local used-book emporia.

-- Steve loved how alien Bass could make his characters... too many writers can't manage that level of strangeness when writing about bug-eyed monsters, let alone future humans.
I first read "The Godwhale" and "Half Past Human" so long ago that I may get the books confused, but wasn't A.R.N.O.L.D. built by (non-too-bright) scientists as the antagonist for "the Benthic beasts", and conditioned with tapes of animal behaviour, including roosters, etc?

"The air you are breathing belongs to somebody else."
Sometimes I dream about that, and the rest of the suicide induction programme - but anyone from outside that rose-water-blooded society was likely to react the way the potential victim did.

Actually, I remember bits of those books under a variety of circumstances, I hadn't realised the extent of it. (Not least when reading Terry Pratchett's hommage, of course.)
Yes, yes he was. And there's the interesting medical interventionist scene with the tattooing fingers, as well--which is why I'm ready to say that *book* is problematic. But problematic =/= bad, necessarily. Though it gets used that way sometimes.

Yeah, so much of that book is stuck in my head still. Speaks of its power... and its power to disturb.
Loved those two books when I read them many years ago.

Not many hard SF type books that focus on biology like he did.

As others have said, scenes and memories from that book linger with me still, 20 some years later.

I always though he should have gotten more recognition of some sort for those two books.
*adds book to Kindle list*
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.

I think I read the short story that became this novel: I remember the ship's name.

Ah.
I knew there was an echo of *something* in "Boojum," and couldn't place my finger on it until today, with this.

There are a lot of imperfections in our genres' pasts; balancing those against the amazing bits takes a deft hand some days.

You done good.
Added those two books to my cart. I vaguely remember the title "The Godwhale" but have never read it. So many books, so little time. . .sigh! Thanks for the heads up.
I've read _Half-Past Human_ and _The Godwhale_, and still have my copy of _Godwhale_, kept hoping someday I'd be good enough to do some pictures from it. Vain hope.

I hadn't thought of it as horror, but I see that now. I've always thought of _Against A Dark Background_ by Iain Banks as real science fiction horror, though.
I haven't read that one.

I think The Godwhale is horror in the predictive-SF-if-this-goes-on sense, and also in the brutality with which it deals with human motivation and its outcomes.

And the graphic medical details. ;-) (Oh, the wire sutures. Oh, the parasitic maggots.)
Not to mention Moses' Melon. What an excellent couple of books. A great talent, and sad news. Maybe now it's time to adapt Godwhale into a screenplay! :-)
Well, another book just went on my to-do list.

... 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. Sounds a lot like another set of stories I know...

Oh, and my respects to the CD and my wishes for his full recovery.