Science fiction survey

Science fiction survey

Books SCIENCE FICTION SURVEY DENNIS LIVINGSTON Robert Theobald and J. M. Scott, Teg’s 1994: An Anticipation of the .Near Future (115 pages, $5, Pe...

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Books

SCIENCE

FICTION

SURVEY

DENNIS LIVINGSTON Robert Theobald and J. M. Scott, Teg’s 1994: An Anticipation of the .Near Future (115 pages, $5, Personalised Secretarial Service, 5045 N. 12th St, Phoenix, Arizona 85014, USA, 1969) Jon Hartridge, Binary Divine, (213 pages, $4.95, Doubleday, New York 1970)

The two books for this survey, though very different in quality, deal with the same theme: the pitfalls that man may encounter in his attempts to achieve an economically and humanistically more just society than now exists on earth. In both novels, something approaching a utopia is achieved for the whole planet, but in Hartridge’s work catastrophic disaster follows, while in Theobald and Scott, the tale closes with warnings of serious problems to come. Binary Divine is the first science fiction novel by this British author. Much as I would like to report the discovery of a new find, it is poor science fiction on every level-the plot lacks originality, the dialogue is wooden, and the characters stereotypes (the Man Who Saves the World, his Girlfriend, etc). Though the book should be of little direct interest to serious readers, it is yet of some value because it picks up and passes on two of the most important, and oldest, cultural myths in the literature. These myths (used in the sense of basic community belief-values) are the notion of technology becoming so advanced that it completely escapes man’s control, and then turns against him, and the warning that if man lives in too perfect a world, his will to survive and capacity to act for himself will degenerate. In Binary Divine, which takes place

FUTURES

December 1970

‘A remarkable book, to which justice can’t be done except in terms of a long analysis. But no one ought to have the nerve to pontificate on our present worries without reading . . . Mr. Toffler’s formidable work. . . . If this book is neglected, we shall all be very foolish.’ C. P. Snow, FINANCIAL TIMES ‘Alvin Toffler has sent something of a shockwave through Western society. . . . a disturbing and challenging book.’ Peter Grosvenor, DAILY EXPRESS ‘A classic of the genre” Laslett. THE TIMES.

Peter 50s.

THE STUDENT REVOLT Colin Crouch ‘He explores two questions with a care and scepticism which will be unwelcome both to mandarins and militants. He sees that there are real problems of power in the universities. He argues too that no solution can come through the nostrum of total participatory democracy.’ Julius Gould, OBSERVER. 30s.

BODLEY

HEAD

393

394

Books between 2038-2080, each individual carries around a device called VHOICE (Vocal Human Oriented Information and Consultative Equipment), which is hooked into a superintelligent computer utility, and will solve any problems put to it. With this system, the world more or less runs itself, as formal government withers away and peace is achieved (the book implicitly assumes that the only cause of strife is lack of material goods). This utopia ends in 2040 when a series of ‘para-compulsive’ events break out, with people engaging in acts of random destruction and mass insanity. In an ending which is not at all logical or clear, but which restates the basic theme of the myth, we learn that the cause of man’s near extinction was that he placed too much faith in the VHOICE box and lost the vitality of will that resulted from lack of challenges or adversity. That this need not be the fate of a world at peace is one of the important contributions of Theobald and Scott’s ‘participation book’, so called because it comes in mimeographed form with wide margins for the reader to jot down, and later send off to the authors, his comments and queries. While science fiction has not been noted for dwelling on positive utopias, it may be that we are in for a comeback of this genre thanks to the precepts of futures studies. If it is vital for society to have some picture of the array of possible futures from which to choose the direction of its growth, it is most helpful for some of these pictures to present models of the most desirable society that the authors can imagine on the basis of presently known trends. Teg’s 1994 becomes doubly interesting because it is a utopia written at the close of the 1960’s, forcing the authors to take account in their model of the disruptive trends so harshly revealed during that decade. The result is a fascinating portrait, depicted through a series of ‘docu-

ments’ written or collected by the heroine, which would seem to represent a society based on strands from the new left/hippie philosophy of decentralisation. This possible world of 1994 is one in which “the techno-system acts merely as infra-structure, expansion and growth are no longer goals and human society has re-emphasised social interaction through world-wide decentralisation into small, sub-cultural communities”. Thanks to a global communications network, the trend towards concentrated urbanisation is reversed and, with the help of a new profession of ‘community facilitators’, individuals group themselves voluntarily into ‘consentives’ in which maximally supportive environments for selfdevelopment can be created. Each community is based on different founding myths, goals, and behaviour patterns, making for rich cultural diversity. A cybernated production system has resulted in the elimination of a money economy in the more prosperous regions; education is comprised of programmed teaching, selfguidance, group interaction, and apprenticeships. It is not a perfect world, however, and at the end the characters realise that the community movement has gone so far as to result in global entropy as individuals no longer are able to communicate easily across community lines. For myself, there are some large conceptual gaps in the book that do not enhance credibility of such a society. Nothing at all is said about what happens to the multi-billion dollar war economy or how the great international issues just fade away in the face of prosperity. The form of government is never very clear, but appears to be a kind of benevolent, technocratic elite that knows ‘what’s best’ for the world. On the whole, I am doubtful that so many people could behave so rationally as the story must assume they do for its world to be possible.

FUTURES

December 1970