Friday, June 18, 2010

Book Review: 'The Overman Culture' by Edmund Cooper

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Overman Culture’ (191 pp) was published by Berkley in 1972; the cover artist is uncredited, but according to the ISF database is Paul Lehr.
Michael Faraday is a young boy growing up in middle-class surroundings in London during the latter half of the 20th century. But it’s a strange sort of London. The entire city is surrounded by an enormous, transparent force field; there is a world war going on, marked by ineffective, but frequent, bombing runs against the city by fleets of biplanes and zeppelins. Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill are alive and well and amble about the city on hovercars, while the cinemas show outdated films like ‘Gone With the Wind’. The population of the city is unusually small, and the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants, such as Michael’s parents, are oddly emotionless and prone to vapid moralizing. Michael’s classmates at grammar school are named Horatio Nelson, Ellen Terry, and Emily Bronte; the significance of these names is lost to him because he is not expected to learn to read.
As Michael grows into a teenager he becomes increasingly aware that there is something artificial, even duplicitous, about the world he lives in. Against the admonitions of his parents and other ‘drybones’ in authority, Michael and his small group of friends embark on a covert campaign to learn all they can about the true nature of the city and their place within it. But every discovery they make only raises new questions, and as the scrutiny of the drybones grows more intense, Michael and his friends realize they are running out of the time they need to uncover the reality of their existence.
 ‘Overman’ will call to mind recent films like ‘The Matrix’, which also uses the theme of a protagonist struggling to break the confines of a world that seems artificial, and without giving too much away, the ending of Overman will echo that of The Matrix. The novel unfolds with deliberate pacing and reader is induced to continue as author Cooper, through the vehicle of the main character Michael Faraday, gradually discloses more revelations about the world of the Overman culture. 

The novel’s main drawback is that the narrative begins to drag well before the climactic Revelation is presented within the last 30 pages, and the Revelation itself is rather clichèd. Nonetheless, ‘Overman’ will be appreciated by readers looking for a slower-paced SF novel with a more contemplative tenor.

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