Omnivore by Piers Anthony (book review).

In my endeavor to stay current, I recently picked up Piers Anthony’s 1968 novel, ‘Omnivore.’ This purchase was driven more by curiosity about the title and its main character, Subble, who is supposedly super-human. However, he doesn’t truly exhibit many extraordinary abilities. Back then, we didn’t often discuss categories like carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores, so the opening page actually explains these terms. The book is divided into four parts.

The first part, ‘A Loaf of Bread,’ features Detective Subble being sent to observe Veg and his farming community on the planet Nacre, with their permission, in order to understand their ways. This continues into ‘A Jug of Wine,’ where Subble visits the artist Aquilon and ends up modeling for her. She seems to be the omnivore referred to in the title, although that interpretation may be proven incorrect by the end of the book. We also learn more about Subble, who is not only an android but also has any information he gains during his investigations wiped from his memory, with only important details being shared among his kind. The purpose of this information gathering remains unclear. Aquilon is a captivating portrayal of an artist, showcasing Piers Anthony’s talent for character writing.

The third part, ‘A Book of Verses,’ follows Subble as he visits Cal and his farm, delving into a lesson on ecology and the vital role fungi play in converting carbon dioxide into oxygen, surpassing regular plants’ capabilities. Considering the book’s original publication date in 1968, this ecological discussion feels surprisingly modern, even though it takes place on an alien planet. It will make you pause and reflect.

The final part, ‘Wilderness,’ doesn’t become clear until halfway through. Up to this point, the narrative follows a formula of Subble meeting someone, engaging in a discussion, and then featuring a scene where Veg, Aquilon, and Cal interact in a past event, though it’s uncertain whether the detective is aware of these connections. The conclusion lacks any such interactions until midway, when Subble suddenly appears and communicates with the local mantra population. From here on, revealing more would be a spoiler, but it’s worth noting that the story’s conclusion goes against Subble’s own recommendations, primarily due to the local ecology.

While the ending makes sense in a way, it emphasizes the idea that when humanity doesn’t understand something, we often resort to harsh solutions. At its core, this novel presents an ecological storyline, which was quite rare for its time and likely had few comparisons.

GF Willmetts

April 2023

(pub: Ballantine Books, 1968. 221 page paperback. Price: varies. ISBN: 72014)

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