One On Me
Reviewed date: 2019 Oct 5
Vulgar and Gross
One On Me is an exercise in shock and disgust. It revels in perversion, abuse, and neglect. It glorifies the depraved and indecent. It celebrates the scatalogical. (Huntley tells in stomach-churning detail about the character's bowel movements--not once, but multiple times.) This book is vulgar and gross, not progressively transgressive.
Despite all that, there is a compelling story. Reworked and edited to remove the obscenities and vulgarities that add nothing to the plot, it could be a worthwhile read. As it is, it's not worth the slog. The story is compelling, but not that compelling. You might conceivably consent to bathe your mind in feces in order to read a really transcendent story, but you wouldn't do so for a merely decent one.
The Free Market
Marcus Aurelius Hornblower is a child growing up in the Free Market. The Free Market is a post-scarcity utopia. Everybody lives forever in floating houses in the sky; the continents below are uninhabited forests. Material goods are provided for free and endless entertainment is broadcast on multiple TV channels. The harshest criminal punishment is light public shaming. It's a decadent, hedonistic culture with no moral guidance.
Marcus Aurelius Hornblower, aka Mark, is the victim of the morally bankrupt Free Market. He is the first child born in hundreds of years. He's a mistake, and unwanted. His mother can't kill him--that would earn her a few minutes of public shaming on prime time TV--but she abuses him. From the time he's a baby she keeps him confined indoors, often locked into a large bathroom. He's denied friends. He's denied human touch. When he's very young his mother refuses to speak to him for years at a time, caring for him only through computers and robots. Later his mother and aunts and uncles sexually abuse him. He's forced to watch pornography. Terrorized at night. Tortured and mock executed for the amusement of adults.
At nineteen years old he can't read or write. He can scarcely speak. Never been to school. Never left his home. Is completely dependent upon his abusers for his every need. He's unable to control basic bodily functions: he defecates and vomits everywhere.
Mark's mere existence is a burden and shame to his family, and he knows the only reason his mother didn't murder him is because it's a crime that would bring her embarrassment.
When he's nineteen, his mother and uncles abandon him in a empty field in North America.
Mark may be on his own, but he is wearing a pair of wings. The wings consist of a suit with anti-gravity lifters that gently raise the flyer up to 20,000 feet. Then the lifter turns off, and the person glides through the air on large wings. By repeatedly lifting and gliding, a person wearing wings can travel great distances quickly. It's a popular sport in the Free Market, but the wings won't help Mark escape abandonment and rejoin the Free Market. For that, Mark needs to find a phone and call for help. But of course his mother and uncles have not left him with a phone.
Speaking of phones, these devices seem very similar to a modern smartphone. (This book was published in 1980.) They're portable, pocketable, work anywhere in the world, and it's hinted they do video as well as audio calls. (They don't appear to have apps, though. Sorry.) Their battery life is incredible. It might be unlimited, but at the least it's on the order of weeks or months.
Mark has the entire uninhabited continent of North America at his disposal, but no clue how to survive the outdoors. Fortunately, he quickly stumbles across a young woman. Her name is Synthetica, and her upbringing was similar to Mark's, with one exception: her father raised her outdoors and taught her survival skills. Like Mark though, she was deprived of human companionship and sexually abused. She was forced to be her father's lover. As a result, she's got issues: she's impulsive and promiscuous and, well, it's all obscene and vomit-inducing. A few years prior to running into Mark, Synthetica was separated from her father, and she's been searching for him ever since.
Synthetica teaches Mark how to survive. In return, Mark helps her search for her father. Synthetica's plan for this is to fly across North America, criss-crossing the continent until she finds him. Mark figures it's a dumb plan, but he decides to stick with Synthetica until he can find a phone and get back to the Free Market.
At one point during their flight across North America, Mark finds and explores an underground shelter. These shelters were built a thounsand years ago, before the Free Market developed, and are often explored by thrill-seeking tourists. But this shelter is inhabited. Mark presumes it's an amusement experience staffed with actors, but it's pretty clear this is a society that has existed underground in isolation since a time prior to the establishment of the Free Market. In any case, Mark explores the shelter, interacts with the people a bit, pretends to be a god, then escapes and rejoins Synthetica. It's pretty clear this shelter and these people will be significant later.
Synthetica and Mark see the prison cube. Oh, did I not mention the prison cube? Mark knew about it. Author Tim Huntley quickly fills us in. The prison is a giant white cube-shaped building. A thousand years ago when Randolph Stern established the Free Market, anybody who objected or was unfit for the new utopia was cryogenically frozen and locked up in the prison. There they sleep, forever suspended.
The moment she sees the prison, Synthetica sudden knows that her father is inside.
OK, with a name like Synthetica, it's been obvious since her introduction that she is an artificial human being created for an unknown purpose by an unknown enemy of the Free Market. Now her purpose is revealed.
Dr. Peter Winter and Randolph Stern
Synthetica and Mark enter the prison (it's unmanned, you don't need guards when the prisoners are in suspended animation) and revive her father. He is Dr. Peter Winter, and he organized a conspiracy against the Free Market. Synthetica is part of that plan: he created her, raised her alone in the forest, and then put her in suspended animation and left her safely hidden in a secret facility. He arranged to have her automatically awakened when the time was right to overthrow the Free Market. Then he and his co-conspirators turned themselves in to Randolph Stern, and allowed themselves to be frozen and put into the prison. Now, Synthetica has arrived, and the time has come for revolution.
Mark wants nothing to do with the overthrow or destruction of the Free Market. What he wants is to join the Free Market as an adult. He escapes from Dr. Winter and ends up with his Uncle Theo. Uncle Theo, who was introduced previously, turns out to be intimately involved with Winter's plot. See, Uncle Theo, even more than Winter, orchestrated the plot. Synthetica was Theo's idea. Mark was Theo's idea. The shelter full of survivors was Theo's. Now Theo's ideas come to fruition.
End of the Free Market and the opening of the shelter
Dr. Winter's prison break is the first new and exciting event to occur in eons. Everyone in the Free Market flies their houses to the prison to get a good look. Winter and his revolutionaries think this is an attack, so they unleash their weapons and destroy everything. When the shooting is over, the Free Market is utterly destroyed and everyone is dead. Theo then explains to Mark that his job is to lead the survivors out of the shelter and teach them how to live. They will inherit a new Earth.
One On Me is tightly written and carefully plotted. Every little detail that didn't seem right was eventually explained and brought back into the story in a believable way. It's really extraordinary. The plot is coherent and no detail is arbitrary or unexplained. Except for the incest and the child abuse and the vomiting and pooping and the obscenity on TV and the vulgar sex. That was unnecessary and did not contribute to the plot.