Book Review: The Overman Culture by Edmund Cooper

“Michael had a good memory. He could remember things significant & insignificant. He remembered–if hazily–when he was young enough to be fed milk only. He remembered the odd child who disappeared from playschool & he remembered the other child who fell (or was pushed?) from the high window & lay all smashed & crumpled on the ground, but not bleeding & he remembered how he’d wanted to know about words, how you could keep them, how you could fix them–perhaps like a drawing–forever.”
“Time seems to have run amok. London is governed by Queen Victoria & Winston Churchill, populated by young people called ‘fragiles’ & others called ‘drybones’ because they don’t bleed. The young fragiles come to realize that they’re the last of their kind–whatever kind that might be.
Thus is established the setting for a brilliant novel of adventure that speaks to the largest questions facing young people everywhere–questions of identity, of purpose in life & of responsibility for themselves & their kind.”

 

I read this as part of my “Paper book Reading Challenge for 2019” and it’s been a while since I’ve read a sci-fi novel from the 1970s, and especially one dealing with AI and Robots.

It is a book of its decade and type – there is a hierarchy between the men/boys and all the women/girls are definitely portrayed as subservient or lesser. There is only really one shortish chapter that focuses exclusively on two of the women, and it comes late in the book. It is whilst Michael and his friends are still in pre-school that some people begin to realised that there are two sets of people – the “fragiles” (those who bleed when cut) and “drybones” (those that don’t).

The story is told from perspective of Michael going from a kid to a grown  man and deal with a small group of people who begin to realise that their world is split into two types of people and that they are being manipulated by the “dry bones” for an as yet unknown reason. The chapters are only a few pages each in length, the sentences short and the language deceptively simple for the subject matter covered.

The only female character who poses any kind of challenge is Ellen Terry, a “drybones” school mate who aggravates Michael on purpose and makes him near strangle her in the process.

With a cry of rage, he rushed at her and they both fell to the ground. Michael’s fingers were round her neck tight. But she didn’t seem to mind. She was still laughing. He lifted her head and banged it hard against the ground, again and again. But still she laughed as if it were a game. In desperation, he tried to bite her throat. He bit until the teeth ached in his jaw, but still the laughter came.

Not all male characters come off well either, with Horatio having the ability to spot dry bones with unnerving accuracy, but with an almost primitive anger about him, that results in the “death” of the drybone Aldous Huxley.

Each “Fragile” handles the situation differently, with Michael pushing through as the leader-apparent, with others cracking at various ages, and by various means. Finally the Drybones and the Fragiles confront the situation, and the Fragiles find that they are small in number and that they have been used as part of an experiment, with any losses deemed to be worthy in defining the situation.

A decent book to reading, even after ignoring the generational social shift as to what is acceptable in any book, no matter the genre.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Overman Culture by Edmund Cooper

  1. Edmund Cooper is the only author whose work I threw after reading. I actually got up, picked the book back up and threw it again. He’s unremittingly sexist throughout his career and while I can forgive this of authors before about 1970. I just couldn’t keep forgiveness going.

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    • This was the first of his books I’ve read, and yeah, the sexism is blatant. I had forgotten how bad sci fi books could be into the 1970s.

      Meanwhile, I MUST try and get a copy of “The Unicorn : Psychic Detective”, which has to be my favourite appalling detective/sci fi book of all time

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