Übermensch by Mathew Babaoye

Übermensch by Mathew BabaoyeCombining one extreme of a post-scarcity society with a protagonist who starts with nothing, Babaoye weaves an intriguing answer to the question, ‘if you had no past and anything was possible, what would you be?’

Awaking with complex language skills and motor-control, but no memories, Id learns he is a bio-engineered slave of the mysterious Master Gabriel. As he takes on ever more complex tasks, and receives ever more discretion in what he learns and does, Id assembles a clearer picture of an Earth ruled by Masters of almost godlike power and peopled only by the genetic constructs that continue to amuse their jaded palates. But with the increasing ability to anticipate his owner’s needs this understanding brings, comes a greater chance to make a tedious mistake.

As fits a novel dealing with the growth of a character from blank construct to complex individual, the opening chapters are written in a formal style, laden with repeated jargon, rather than the mostly casual style usual for fiction. Although Babaoye remains firmly on the side of story rather than manual, Id’s habit of referring to everything by its full name each time and such does create a sense of repetition. Depending on the reader’s preference, this will either come across as a skilled evocation of a logical construct seeking to learn the world, or a tedious distraction from events.

This technical narration abates as Id learns and evolves. As such, readers who find the story engaging but for that will find much to enjoy if they push on.

With apparently infinite energy, and both genetic and materials engineering limited only by imagination, Babaoye’s Earth bears certain similarities to Moorcock’s Dancers at the End of Time. However, while the trappings of almost-magic are similar, both the nuances of the world and the story Babaoye tells are different, preventing this book from seeming a copy or parody.

Starting with no knowledge of anything and learning only from his experiences, Id is an almost ideal tool for revealing Babaoye’s radically different Earth without implausible exposition or over-description. However, Id is more than an analogue for the reader. As the story progresses, Id’s initial unthinking obedience morphs into a desire to perform the right actions, making the construct a sympathetic protagonist in a world where right – or reality – can change on a whim.

This struggle to find a meaningful path becomes still more powerful when Id discovers how many predecessors he has, and the odd reasons for which they were annihilated.

The supporting cast are not supporting – save in the most technical sense. Possessing a hollow uniqueness, the Masters of Earth flicker between grand whims and tedious legalism, constrained only by each other and the ennui of having nothing left to achieve.

Those few non-Masters that Id meets are similarly both diverse and yet trapped within the same constraint. With perfect and entertaining service only the least worst way to avoid being casually destroyed, the servants and

Overall, I enjoyed this novel immensely. I recommend to readers seeking high-concept science-fiction.

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