Inventive, unique, and bizarre yet tumultuous (4/5)
T.J. Bass (penname of Thomas Joseph Bassler, MD) is something of an enigma. He only wrote two novels—both of The Hive—which were met with intrigue, yet he never published another novel, leaving the start of his Hive series unfinished—fruit ripe for the picking; thus, he has left a minor yet indelible legacy on science fiction. The Hive is a wonderfully witty and unmistakably unique series that has little parallelism to any other novel written before or written since—it’s wholly original.
Rear cover synopsis:
“Deep in the Shaft-cities lived three trillion creatures, once human—and still calling themselves homo sapiens. But they were small, bred to size in fact, as they were bred for various kinds of ‘work’—for even in their almost totally automated culture they had to be kept busy. Like ants.
But things were going wrong. The machines weren’t getting it all right any more—they were even breaking down sometimes. While Outside, there were Others—who waited…”
In a few thousand years, humans will have been genetically tampered with so that they could adapt to crowding; this adaptation, however, also deprived the Hive citizens of “immunoglobulin A, calcium and collagen, neurohumoral axis, [and] melanoctye” (8), rendering them soft and frail… they also live a full lifespan of twenty years and have a deeply set default to obey. Being barely four-foot tall, these feeble citizens—named Nebishes—are packed in underground spirals all across the globe, totally more than three trillion Nebishes. Their food source: planet-wide agriculture in which machines plant, pollinate, and pick the food to feed the ever dewindling supply of calories to the Nebishes. At the helm of this massive so-called society is C.O. or Computer One, who steers the course of the same society, governs all decisions, and has very little toleration for the tangents of humans… or toleration for any humans, really, as re-packaged cannibalism is common in order to meet calorie quotas with a particular streak of disregard for well-being.
Just as their forced evolution was de-evolution in regards to longevity, strength, and intelligence, the long-term stability of The Hive has produced other atrocities: recurring Hunts on the surface to kill and make trophies of the five-toed humans, the systematic destruction and reprocessing of the weak in order to feed the strong, the balance of morals based on calories rather than happiness, and the Nebish disregard for their heritage.
The four-toed Nebishes are surely the most dominate species on the planet as nearly every other lifeform has been made extinct. On the brink of extinction is the five-toes human, a smattering of whom live on the surface where the Nebishes find conditions deadly. The five-toes pillage the fields of calories and largely live a hand-to-mouth existence, among them are five-toed outcasts and non-conformists from The Hive. When one of these five-toes comes across an ancient piece of technology, the figurative wheels are set in motion to begin the uprising against The Hive—but the five-toes don’t understand their place in the upheaval and how are they supposed to battle three trillion Nebishes with their just-as-obedient machines?
The Hive is much too stable—evolving in terms of millions of years, and then toward death. It lives by the status quo—only becoming competitive when faced with another hive. Then it does only what is necessary for survival—no more. It can come into being wherever your species is too successful—a product of population density. (272)
Continually inventive and written with extensive medical English (i.e. edematous, seborrheic, edentulous, squamous), diagnostic English, and acronyms, the whole package is a bizarre and intriguing kaleidoscope of imagination. Ultimately, however, this strong current of invention is too swift for the inexperienced author as the plot takes on too much just prior to a mildly unsatisfying conclusion… but it was also ripe for its sequel, The Godwhale (1974).