Friday, May 19, 2017

Book Review: Habitation One

Book Review: 'Habitation One' by Frederick Dunstan

3 / 5 Stars

‘Habitation One’ ( 256 pp) was published in the UK in 1983 by Fontana Books. The name of the artist who provided the striking cover illustration is not disclosed. 'Habitation' was the first (and apparently only) novel by author Dunstan, who evidently (according to its British review) was a 19 year-old college student at the time of its publication - !

The two reviews available for this novel at the 'Goodreads' website gave it only a few stars. But in my opinion, ‘Habitation One’, while not perfect, deserves a three star rating.

The novel is set in the year 2528, centuries after a combination of wars and eco-disasters have rendered the Earth a wasteland. The Remainder of Humanity – 1200 people – lives within the eponymous Habitation, a massive doughnut-shaped structure four miles in diameter, erected on an enormous column rising miles above the Earth’s surface. Within the Habitation rests an ecosystem resembling a rustic English village. The awareness of the Habitation as a post-apocalyptic arcology has been long forgotten by the successive generation of residents; to them, the interior of the Habitation is all the world they know.

As the novel opens, there are winds of change penetrating the simple existence of the residents of the Habitation. The mysterious machineries that supply the arcology with its electrical power and water are starting to break down; food harvests lessen with each passing year, and the population is starting to slowly, but inexorably, decline.

Settle, the middle-aged Librarian of Habitation One, leads a group of five residents, called The Scribaceous and Anagnostic Society, who regularly meet to discuss and debate Habitation society, mores, and politics. Not quite outcasts, but also not content with the direction the Habitation’s ruling class have taken, the Society is intrigued when Settle discloses that his efforts to explore the partially ruined floors of the Library have led to access to previously closed-off rooms and galleries.

Within these dust- and debris-covered rooms are ancient artifacts and databases, and a store of knowledge that can either save the Habitation......or doom it. For the revelations Settle has uncovered about the history and origins of the Habitation are not going to be received with equanimity by all of its residents……….

‘Habitation One’ belongs to the sub-genre of sf in which a closed, post-apocalyptic society ignorant of its origins comes to a ‘conceptual breakthrough’ occasioned by a degree of psychological, religious, and cultural trauma. It has a quirky originality that keeps it from being routine, however.

The author’s prose style, while frequently self-conscious and awkward (have your dictionary at hand to look up ‘coacervation’, ‘assentience’, 'insalubrious', and ‘manducate’), is really no worse than much of the prose appearing elsewhere in sf during the late 70s and early 80s (and here Donald Kingsbury's Courtship Rite, and any novel by Gene Wolfecome quickly to mind). The plot takes its time to unfold, but the narrative gets propelled by regular episodes of violence, some of which are frank Splatterpunk. While these Splatterpunk episodes were repugnant to the reviewers at 'Goodreads', they do lend urgency to the growing conflict stealing upon Habitation One.

Summing up, while I can’t recommend ‘Habitation One’ as a must-have example of 80s sf, if you happen to come upon it during one of your trips to the bookstore, it is worth picking up.

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