This is the novel that got me on my recent kick for Walter Tevis in the first place. I was looking up books that won or were nominated for the big sci fi awards, and this was was nominated for one of them. Then I saw that he had written The Hustler, so that opened up more, and then Hoopla had several of his books available, so here I am.
This is a science fiction book more or less, but is more so written as a kind of speculation into the future of humanity facing some kind of extinction. Rather than a large apocalyptic event and rather than 1000s of years in the future of other common Dying Earth book, this one imagines humanity slowly winnowing down and as population dwindles there’s a more custodial need for humans than a living one. What this means is that as humans are no longer the dominant species on Earth and as the structures of society greatly outsize the actual population there has come a point at which the AI and robotics technology that the last of the intelligent humans created is now employed in tending the flock of remaining, lower intelligence, infertile, and illiterate remainders.
The novel is told through three perspectives (two first person, and one third person) and following Bob “Spofforth”, an android whose body looks human and whose brain is based on the collected memories of someone, unknown, in the past. His job now is caretaker of humans, and he’d rather simply die. He’s the last, most intelligent being on the Earth, aside from the humans. We have Bentley, a human from Ohio, who has managed to teach himself how to read books, but has no contextual knowledge to make sense of almost anything contained in the books. And finally we have Mary Lou, a very intelligent human who, through an act of accident, is allergic to the various suppressant medications given to humans to lull them. She actually wants to the give the world a shot.
The novel has little in way of plot, but slowly explores this vast empty chasm of former human existence, and we slowly learn about the world as the inhabitants, now waking from their dreamy ignorance do as well.