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Book Title: Conditionally Human|
The author of the book: Walter M. Miller Jr.
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Reader ratings: 4.5
Date of issue: 1962
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 798 KB
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This anthology contains three novellas written in the 1950's.
"Conditionally Human" is set in a future where the crisis of overpopulation has caused the implimentation of rigid controls on procreation based on genetic screening. To satisfy the parental instinct in those who were not permited children, a device named the evolvotron was invented. Through genetic manipulation, animals were modified to possess a limited intelligence, verbal abilities, and the appearance of a young child. These altered creatures were all the same sex with their physical development arrested at young age. Naturally, a rogue technician began removing the limit and produced male and female beings, creating a new species. The central character in the story, who's job was essentially an animal control officer, faces a personal crisis involving the status of these 'conditional humans.' Though the story is thoughtful and well-written, the central premise is at odds with today's mores and the solution relative to the economic impact of actual childern doesn't bear close scrutiny. Still the crux of the tale is valid. Historically, humanity has bred animals to serve its purposes, but manipulation to produce a level of sentience presents a myriad of moral and ethical questions.
"The Darfsteller" (actor in yiddish?) won the Hugo for novella in 1955. The central theme is the effect automation on an industry and those involved in it. In this case it is the entertainment industry and its practioneers, specifically actors affected by new technology. A means of codifying an actor's ability to perform a part is combined with a computerized form of direction to mechanical mannequins. Any play can then be performed. The same actor can appear in the same or different plays in theaters around the world. One passage describes the on-demand form of entertainment home viewers can obtain which is a familiar feature today. An aging actor refuses to participate in the creation of simalcra in his form and works as a janitor to at least remain close to his old profession. About to be replaced by a cleaning robot, he plots his revenge which includes substituting for one of the robot actors he has sabotaged. The story is well-contstructed and again shows Miller's writing skill. The ending is rather melodramatic with the hero surviving and realizing he need not be defined solely by a career he can no longer pursue. Better tools will always come along and humanity's strength is in not being confined to a single niche.
"Dark Benediction" is a mix of a post-apocolypse, alien invasion, and zombie elements found in a number of tales in the early 1950's. A mysterious rain of round projectiles fall on the earth which came from somewhere lightyears away. When opened, a mysterious jelly is found inside. Humanity begins to suffer from a 'gray' plague where the skin becomes gray, the person suffers fevers and hallucinations, and has an overpowering impulse to touch an unaffected person to spread the apparent disease. Chaos natually ensues. The story is a tragedy of sorts, one of unintended consequences. The beings responsible sent the objects as a gift, enclosing information on themselves and the contents but didn't recoken with humanity's monkey brain and urge to act first and think after. In my opinion this is the best of the three stories though it's ending is also on the melodramatic side.
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Read information about the authorFrom the Wikipedia article, "Walter M. Miller, Jr.":
Miller was born in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Educated at the University of Tennessee and the University of Texas, he worked as an engineer. During World War II, he served in the Army Air Corps as a radioman and tail gunner, flying more than fifty bombing missions over Italy. He took part in the bombing of the Benedictine Abbey at Monte Cassino, which proved a traumatic experience for him. Joe Haldeman reported that Miller "had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for 30 years before it had a name".
After the war, Miller converted to Catholicism. He married Anna Louise Becker in 1945, and they had four children. For several months in 1953 he lived with science-fiction writer Judith Merril, ex-wife of Frederik Pohl and a noted science-fiction author in her own right.
Between 1951 and 1957, Miller published over three dozen science fiction short stories, winning a Hugo Award in 1955 for the story "The Darfsteller". He also wrote scripts for the television show Captain Video in 1953. Late in the 1950s, Miller assembled a novel from three closely related novellas he had published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1955, 1956 and 1957. The novel, entitled A Canticle for Leibowitz, was published in 1959.
A Canticle for Leibowitz is a post-apocalyptic (post-holocaust) novel revolving around the canonisation of Saint Leibowitz and is considered a masterpiece of the genre. It won the 1961 Hugo Award for Best Novel. The novel is also a powerful meditation on the cycles of world history and Roman Catholicism as a force of stability during history's dark times.
After the success of A Canticle For Leibowitz, Miller never published another new novel or story in his lifetime, although several compilations of Miller's earlier stories were issued in the 1960s and 1970s.
In Miller's later years, he became a recluse, avoiding contact with nearly everyone, including family members; he never allowed his literary agent, Don Congdon, to meet him. According to science fiction writer Terry Bisson, Miller struggled with depression during his later years, but had managed to nearly complete a 600-page manuscript for the sequel to Canticle before taking his own life with a gun in January 1996, shortly after his wife's death. The sequel, titled Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman, was completed by Bisson and published in 1997.
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