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The Sea is Boiling Hot

The Sea is Boiling Hot by George BamberThe Sea is Boiling Hot
Ace Books, 1971
Price I paid: none

In the world of Heron Attee’s time, scientific wastes had so fouled the atmosphere that men were forced to erect giant bubbles over their cities so that the air inside could be continually purified and made breathable. Outside the city domes, humans would strangle and die from breathing the air.

Even the oceans of Earth were so befouled by thermal pollution from atomic plants that life within the great waters had long since died off.

And the people of the domed cities lived a fantastic, hedonistic life dedicated to sex, violent games, and programmed hallucinations. Desperation hovered over mankind: exctinction was coming ever closer.

But one man, the brilliant scientist Heron Attee, discovered a means of reversing the process of Earthdeath…if it wasn’t too late….

So Joachim Boaz sent me this book in a package with lots of others. I believe he referred to this one as “the worst of the lot” or something to that effect, and he was probably correct. I think basically everything I have to say about it could be summed up in the Tweet I sent him last night:

I mean, jeez. This book. Since I finished it I’ve been trying to put together in my head everything that was just offensive and hacky and awful about it. There’s just so much.

And the sad thing is that there were some decent ideas floating around in this book, too. They were just drowned out by an awful protagonist, a society that was copy/pasted from Brave New World, and porn. Highly disturbing porn that on one occasion involved children. I’m still trying to decide whether those scenes were put in as titillation or as an attempt to shock us into thinking how perverted and awful the society was. Either way, it was a failure. I guess I’ll get to that in a bit.

So our awful protagonist—and I’m still trying to decide whether he was deliberately awful or if the author wanted us to stand with his stupid opinions—is Heron Attee. He’s a scientist of some sort and he’s discovered a way of fixing the world and staunchly withholds that discovery because of his half-formed and idiotic ideas about mankind and technology.

See, the world of this future is just a big mess. Industrial pollution has made the atmosphere completely unbreathable. As the title suggests by making use of a line from a Lewis Carroll poem, the seas are a bit warm. In fact, they are literally boiling. This has more to do with nuclear power than global warming, however, as the problem with the seas is tied to the fact that nuclear power plants dumped the water used for cooling purposes back into the ocean and things got out of hand.

To avoid the extinction that happened to every other animal on Earth, mankind has moved into gigantic bubble domes (take a shot). Life inside the domes is tightly controlled (take a shot) and people are kept in line via hedonistic pleasure (take a shot).

Oh hell, just take a shot whenever I mention anything to do with this setting.

So Heron Attee’s problem is that life inside the bubble domes is lacking in FREEDOM.

To be fair, life inside the domes is crazy. I can understand somebody wanting out. The problem I have with Heron is that his reasoning is so backward and his plans are so dumb.

See, he invented this process to reverse pollution. It’s a bit clever. It makes use of the already-existent Mat-tel device, essentially a teleporter.

One thing I wondered about is whether the naming of this device was supposed to invoke the toy-making company Mattel. Like, maybe they diversified their portfolio and now they make Hot Wheels, Barbie dolls, and teleportation booths. I’m only being half-facetious here, since the book also made liberal use of other current brands, namely Disney. In this world, people to go “the Disney’s” to see high-tech recreations of the animals that once roamed the planet. The Disney’s are particularly well-regarded for their butterflies. And yes, the apostrophe was in the book.

So anyway, Heron came up with an idea to use a teleporter device to “imbust” the pollution back into its original form. Basically you throw smog in and you get crude oil back out. Thing is, there’s a formula for doing it that only he knows (“simpler than E=MC²”), and he ain’t tellin’. His reasoning makes him one of the more infuriating characters I’ve ever encountered.

Basically he goes “technology got us into this mess so I refuse to use technology to get us back out.”

He has these long diatribes throughout the book about how we’re over-reliant on technology and hoary old things like that. I hate that argument. It’s so backward. It’s like saying a cat is over-reliant on its claws or a bird is over-reliant on its wings.

“Take away all this technology and we’d all be boned!” I’ve heard people say in real life and in this book.

And I like to reply “Break a bird’s wings, pull off a fish’s fins, or block up a dog’s nose, and they too would be boned!”

I mean, technology is what we do. It’s our thing. It makes us human. For better or for worse, it’s what nature gave us to survive and prosper. Has it gotten us into trouble? Hell yeah, of course, I can’t argue with that. But the answer is that we need to be educated in technology’s consequences and learn to use it responsibly, not take it all away and let billions of people die needlessly.

But that’s not what Heron Attee thinks. He thinks that adding more technology will just make things worse, regardless of what that technology is. He’d rather leave the dome and live on top of a mountain. That’s seriously his goal. He can see mountains through the dome, and he thinks that they’re high enough off the ground to prevent the pollution from affecting him unduly. He figures that there might—might!—be something up there to eat. Lichen or something. Snow. Whatever.

Before he comes to that conclusion, though, he spends a lot of the book deciding that he wants to “opt-out.” That’s a thing people do in this society when societal pressures get too great for them. It’s a lobotomy that makes a person care only about pleasure. “Optees” love everybody and are basically a walking id. The state takes care of them, coming around to make sure they’re eating and to hose them down if they get too dirty. Heron figures that going that route would help him be happier and not have to face the fact that he’s got a way to save the world in his head that he selfishly refuses to tell anybody.

He applies for the opt-out procedure and the ruling computer (take a shot) tells him that he’s got some stuff to do first. Namely, he needs to go down to the Cytogenesis Center and meet some of his clones.

Yeah, people are basically all clones now.

I guess the computer figures that meeting some clones might re-invigorate his lust for life or something, or at least give him a sense of personal responsibility. What happens there is when this book turns into a sexual nightmare.

He meets this lady named Cari who takes him on a tour of the place. Heron’s got about five generations of clones hanging around (this is supposed to indicate his superior genes), and she wants him to meet some of them. We also get a view of the facilities, the bubbles where clones are developed, the educational rooms, and so forth.

A large part of this middle section of the book shows us how children in this future are running around playing with poop and having sex with one another. At one point, Cari lets a group of clone children of about three years old explore her. This gets her “hot.” They leave that room and Cari tries to get Heron to have sex with her because she’s so worked up. He declines and they go visit the older children. Heron meets another one of his clones, this one about sixteen years old. They talk a bit. Cari invites them to have a threesome. They both decline. She leaves and they continue talking about stuff (mainly Heron’s stupid ideas about living on mountains). As he leaves, he pokes his head into a room to see Cari getting spit-roasted by some fourteen-year-olds.

ARIGIDFLKDF

None of that is necessary!

I’m still trying to figure out what the author was trying to do by having scenes like that. Was he trying to titillate the reader with child pornography? Or was he trying to shock us into seeing how degraded and awful this society is?

Heron is still figuring he wants to opt-out, but first he has to go talk to Dr. Spock.

Dr. Spock is in this case a reference to Dr. Benjamin Spock, the child psychologist and writer. In the future, the name is used as a title. The current holder of the Dr. Spock office is a woman, sort of. She’s about 250 years old and has had many of her body parts replaced by machines. She’s described as tough to look at.

Anyway, Dr. Spock tells Heron that he can’t opt-out and he can’t leave the dome to live on a mountain for three days before dying of a combination of exposure and starvation. Actually, she makes a deal with him. He can do whatever he wants to do as long as he gives her the formula. If he wants to leave the dome, she’ll even back him up. The state will give him supplies and survival equipment and he can take along anyone who wants to go with him. He just has to play ball.

So he refuses, of course. Oh, how he’s persecuted, poor Heron. Everybody’s against him. Why do they all insist that he save the human race? Can’t he just deprive humanity of hope and life in peace?

There’s a lot of back-and-forth. He finally gets tired of all that and attempts to kill Dr. Spock by cutting some of the tubes that have replaced her circulatory system. He flees into some tunnels that turn out to be the inner workings of the central computer that runs the show. It’s here that he starts talking to the computer itself, which tells him to be careful in there. If he so much as brushes against the wrong transistor set, he could throw the world into chaos and murder countless people. When he doesn’t come out, the computer sends in some weird animal-creatures, a genetic hybrid of humans and baboons, to fetch him. I think normally they do maintenance work. Either way, he fights them off and at one point breaks a lot of computer. He finds an exit and leaves to find that he did bad.

Life support systems across several domes are busted and millions of people are dead. He figures now is as good a time as any to make his escape from the dome. He finds a Mat-tel booth and tells it to send him near the exit.

Incidentally, if you touch the walls in a Mat-tel booth something will go wrong and you will DIE. Likewise, if you give the booth the wrong number (picking a destination is somewhat like dialing a fifteen digit telephone number) you might DIE. That is some crappy engineering.

Heron wakes up after his teleport goes wrong. Actually it was intercepted by the computer and then someone took his brain out.

Actually, I liked this bit.

The computer and Dr. Spock (she survived) tell him that he’s now a brain in a jar connected to some sensors. He can’t escape. He can’t even die. If he gives them the information they need, they’ll give him a new body and let him do what he wants. Until then, he’s a brain in a jar. The computer has punished him with immortality.

So finally he gives in and tells the computer what it wants to know. The computer says that he’ll lose consciousness for a while until they get him transferred into a new body. The last thing in the book is Heron blacking out and I think it’s supposed to be ambiguous regarding his fate. It really seems to me, though, that the computer just killed him. Personally, I prefer this option, as Heron has a lot of people’s blood on his hands and also he was a big jerk with a stupid face.

And there you have it. The ending was the best part, mainly on the grounds that it meant the book was finally done with.

One of the things about characterization that makes for a decent read is the idea of a character wanting something. The thing about Heron is that he did want something and that he was motivated by it, except that most of the book didn’t concern it at all and what he wanted was vague and selfish. He had some idea about how people should live and he was going to try to force it on everybody else, damn the consequences. Except he wasn’t actively trying to do that, he was by definition passively doing it. All he was doing was withholding important information. A simple equation that would make the world a genuinely better place. But he had this whole Luddite philosophy, if you can even call it a philosophy and not just a vague assortment of ideas, that said “no, technology is  bad and I want FREEDOM and I’m going to go die on a mountaintop because I have the RIGHT.” He also does this thing about how struggling to survive gives life meaning and blah blah blah.

A large part of the book seems to be concerned with the rights of the individual versus the state, or in this case the whole of humanity. Does he have the right to deprive humanity of this hope for the future because of his beliefs? I guess he does, but that doesn’t mean he’s correct. And yeah, the state (computer) was doing bad by threatening to imprison him as a brain in a jar for the rest of eternity because he exercised that right, but what we’ve got here is a guy whose “rights” are “being a selfish idiot to the detriment of the rest of humanity.” And he also killed a lot of people in the meantime. One might argue that his rights are suspended at that point. Either way, nobody in this book is blameless, nobody is right, and everything is terrible.

At least the guy on the front of the book looks a little like Odo.

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2 Comments

  1. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Oh, yeah. I remember that one. After I read it, it took years for my brain to expel the damage. One line from an optee kept earworming me for years. If I still had access to a copy I would have been the one sending it to you for review.

    Though when I read it, I recognized where he’d gotten the idea for that society’s living conditions. Back around the first Earth Day, I remembered an essay associated with the new environmental movement that did a thought-experiment on how big a population Earth could support. I don’t remember the exact population number, but it was a significant fraction of a trillion. The essay came up with an artificial resurfacing of earth into a single worldwide arcology miles deep and crammed with people (with less than 100 sq ft per person). The limiting factor was heat radiation from the surface into space and into the oceans below — which would be boiling hot.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 2theD says:

    Thankfully, I have read this before putting my eyes on its pages. After a Sohl novel and an Aldiss collection, Bamber’s POS was up next. But now, however, it will find itself donated to the library book sale next month… pity the poor sap who buys it.

    Liked by 1 person

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