Wrapping up my tour of Kaua’i, here are some pictures I took on the south shore estate of Robert Allerton, whose hospitality is as tremendous as his philanthropy (science fiction-related stuff to follow).
For this installment, I’ve got something a little different. It’s also the good news half of a good/bad news combination.
If is a science fiction magazine that has been around since 1952. Amongst the several dozen that have existed throughout the decade, it is perhaps (outside of The Big Three) the best. I haven’t followed it very closely, and that’s why I missed the big news.
Two issues ago, Damon Knight (acerbic critic and often brilliant writer) was tapped for the job of editor. I didn’t find out until a couple of weeks ago, by which time, I’d missed the opportunity to buy the October and December 1958 issues. February 1959 was still on the stands, however, and I took it with me to Kaua’i.
Perhaps it’s just the rosy glow imparted from having read mostly on the lovely Kalapaki beach, but it’s really good. I’ve gotten through the first five stories, and they shall be the topic of today’s discussion.
It is, of course, with trepidation that I read the opening piece, Pipe Dream by Fritz Leiber. As I’ve explained before, I used to like Fritz a lot (who can forget the brilliant A Pail of Air, which appeared in Galaxy many years ago). His stuff of late, however, has been pretty lousy. To be fair, it all appeared in F&SF, so that may have something to do with it. Anyway, Pipe Dream, about the creation of artificial life, is slickly written and atmospheric, but it’s also disturbing and unpleasant, and perhaps not in the way Fritz intended. I didn’t like it, though I imagine many would.
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Wind People is almost a winner. It is a haunting tale of a ship’s medical officer who elects to remain on a presumably uninhabited planet rather than expose her newborn child to the risks of hyperdrive travel. Bradley writes powerfully, and the mystery presented as the protagonist and her son make tentative and increasing contact with the furtive natives of the planet is exciting and engaging. The ending, however, is a let-down. One had to wonder if Bradley intended for the story to go in a different direction, one in which the editor was afraid to go. You’ll have to read it and see. At least it’s by a woman, stars a woman, and takes place in a universe where women make up half of a starship crew. Progress!
I’ll skip story #3 until the end, as I’ve got a lot to say about that one. Number four is The Man who tasted Ashes by Algis Budrys. This is only the third story of his that I’ve read, and the second really good one; I’m going to look forward to more from him (and perhaps pick up earlier ones I’ve missed). If ever there was an anti-hero, it is the viewpoint character for this story: a petty political intriguer-for-hire who is contracted by an extraterrestrial concern to facilitate World War III. Good stuff.
Next up: Love and Moondogs by Richard McKenna (a career Navy man who got a writing degree on the G.I.Bill—now there’s the American Way!) This is a silly story about the lengths some might go in the pursuit of their cause, however frivolous, and the hypocrisy often inherent therein. In this case, the object of outrage is a Soviet moon-muttnik. Gentle, pleasant satire.
Now back to story #3: The Good Work by relative newcomer Theodore L. Thomas. Remember when I talked about overpopulation in stories and the laughably small numbers most authors bandy about as too much for our planet? Well, Thomas doesn’t play around—there are 350 billion souls inhabiting his Earth, and their life is accordingly regimented and drab. It’s a satirical anti-utopia (a dystopia?). The core of the story is the search for meaningful work in an age when everyone has just enough, and everything is automated. The story has one hell of a barbed punchline.
I think this story is particularly relevant given that we are, I believe, on the cusp of a dramatic change in our economy. Before the industrial revolution, virtually everyone in the United States was employed in the agricultural sector. By the early 1800s, the industrial and service sectors began to rise as machines created jobs and allowed for the distribution of wealth; this was balanced by a drop of employment on the farm. Around 1900, employment in the agricultural sector had dropped to 35%, tied with the service sector and only slightly above the industrial sector. Industrial sector employment rose to a peak of 37% around 1950, and it has begun a gradual but steady decline since. Agricultural employment was at just over 10% in 1950, and it is plummeting fast. Service sector employment makes up the rest.
Projecting out another 50 years, agricultural employment will decline logarithmically, with a limit of zero as time goes to infinity. Industrial employment may take longer, but with mechanization and (ultimately) roboticization, that sector will also see declining employment. That leaves the service sector, which means that in the end, our economy will consist of nobody making anything, and everyone doing something for each other. Except, in the future, I imagine machines will also be my servants. So what will anyone purchase in 50 years to drive the economy? How will anyone work? Perhaps we’ll all be scientists and artists in 2009. More likely, we’ll develop artificial needs for useless products. Radio advertising has already been honed to a fine art, and the ad execs are figuring out the television advertising game pretty quickly.
Maybe we’ll all be employed making advertisements. That sounds fulfilling.
Anyway, I promised good news, so in summation, If with Damon Knight at the helm promises to be a fine magazine.
The other shoe will drop on the last day of this month…
(Confused? Click here for an explanation as to what’s really going on)