"You mean--you believe all that, Lloyd?" she said. "I used to have great respect for your sanity, but-- This thing about no hospitals, about bumping off the Kinsmen to keep the population level down--it's crazy, Lloyd. Look, your father's one jump from the Presidency. Has he ever, in all the years of your life, even hinted such a thing to you?"
My copy of M-117 is shelved in the Joachim Boaz Wing of the MPorcius Library, it being one of the 21 pounds of books donated to me in July of this year by internet SF luminary and model of generosity Joachim Boaz. As anybody who has asked me for my social security number, phone number, or street address can tell you, I am bad at remembering numbers, but I believe this will be the eighth book Joachim sent me that I have read.
Ultimatum in 2050 A.D. first appeared in Amazing Stories in 1963 under the title The Programmed People. I have to admit that this title sounds less like an adventure and more like a luddite tract or a satire of conformity. I will be forging ahead, however, and you can come along for the ride for free--the magazine version is available at the internet archive. (I like the illustrations by Emsh.)
Lloyd Bodger is a "Kinsman," one of the citizens of the Hive, a domed city run on totalitarian lines where attendance at religious services and voting in the regular plebiscites is mandatory—if you fail to meet these obligations you get “hospitalized for readjustment.” With ten million inhabitants the Hive is overcrowded and it is almost impossible for every person to get into a voting booth on plebiscite day during the brief time period in which each person is allowed to vote. In the first chapter of our story Lloyd is at the back of the line at a voting booth and he fears that he will miss a third vote this period and thus be sent to the hospital! Desperate, he asks the attractive woman in front of him if he can cut in front of her in line. She does him a solid, and he gets his vote in on time. Then he realizes that she is the fugitive he has heard about, the woman the Goons are looking for! On a whim, and out of gratitude, he helps the girl get past the Goons who are checking everybody as they leave the Temple/polling place.
(The Goons are the eight-foot tall wheeled robot cops we saw on the cover.)
While Lloyd Junior is our hero, Sharkey presents plenty of scenes in which he does not appear and other characters take center stage. In scenes featuring Lloyd Senior and President Stanton we learn that everything Andra says is true—there are no hospitals; the "hospital" is a crematorium that recycles people into valuable "raw materials!" Dad even has to keep his chronic illness a secret from everybody, including Stanton, because people who are ill or injured are not treated but incinerated!
Rounding out our cast are Grace, Lloyd’s fiance, whom Lloyd chose at random from a list of suitable partners compiled by the government’s computer, and Andra’s fiance, Bob. (For males, marriage before the 25th birthday is compulsory.) They also get scenes of their own—Grace is sad because she has fallen in love with Lloyd but he is only marrying her in deference to the law, and Bob is sad when his fellow anti-Hivers inform him that Andra is hiding out in Lloyd's apartment, which he thinks means she has either been captured or is in fact a government spy. One of Bob’s fellow rebels even considers hiring a sniper to kill Andra! (This is one of the discordant notes in the book--this is a society that is locked up tight, where the government is in charge of all production and it is illegal to go outside at night and in which everybody must carry ID that can be tracked at all times and people get executed for the smallest of offenses, like voting "con" in a referendum for which the government wants a "pro" vote, so it seems unlikely that there could be a thriving black market in assassination services.)
|Jack Gaughan's rendition of a Goon asking for a dude's ID; looks a little big|
By page 78 (Ultimatum in 2050 A.D. takes up 120 pages in this Ace edition) Lloyd and Andra have made their way to the underground facility where rests the computer that manages all the mechanical and technical aspects of the Hive, including the ten thousand Goons. Lloyd puts on a headset and interrogates the computer, and a history of the Hive is transmitted to his brain. Part Two of the novel, 20 pages, consists of this history. I can't say I was happy to be abandoning all the characters and relationships I had spent 78 pages familiarizing myself with.
|This picture of a Goon is pretty cool,|
but in the story two adult men hide in the
prop Goon, so maybe this one is too small
Part Three, the last 20 pages of the novel, brusquely resolves the plot, with Stanton, Lloyd Senior, Bob and the computer getting destroyed in melodramatic fashion and Lloyd falling in love with Grace and the Hive inhabitants being freed to explore and colonize the outside world.
Ultimatum in 2050 A.D. is on the dividing line of barely acceptable and poor. Part One is not bad, but all the good will and interest Part One had developed were evaporated by the shift in tone and topic of Part Two, and Part Three couldn't revive my flagging commitment to the material, even though its individual scenes of people exploding and being thrown in incinerators and struggling with seizures are OK.
A look at Sharkey's list of publications at isfdb suggests that humor really is more his line than adventure--he wrote an Addams Family* novel and a cover story for Fantastic called "It's Magic, You Dope!," and a little googling around suggests he wrote scores of comedy plays that are performed by amateur theatrical groups. I don't think I will be reading anything else by Jack Sharkey soon, if ever.
*In case you were wondering, in the same way I think the moody and well-cast The Black Hole is better than the tiresome Tron, I think the charming and well-cast Munsters is better than the dull Addams Family.