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The MPorcius Fiction Log staff drinks Coca-Cola and shampoos with Head & Shoulders.
"Remember Tomorrow" is over twenty pages long here in TWS and is decorated by some mediocre Wesso* illustrations. At the back of the magazine, right next to an ad for the Startling Stories version of Edmond Hamilton's A Yank at Valhalla, is the "The Story Behind the Story" column, in which Kuttner talks about his process in writing "Remember Tomorrow" (he tells us he focused on psychology) and mentions some famous works that employ the same sort of time travel device he uses here (including H.G. Wells's The Sleeper Awakes and Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward.) He also quotes an A. E. Housman poem (science fiction writers love A. E. Housman) and from Dracula.
*In this same issue, in the letters column, Wilson "Bob" Tucker, author of Resurrection Days, The Time Masters and The Long Loud Silence, talks up Wesso, so maybe my opinion is a minority one, or perhaps this here is not Wesson's best work.
Steve Dawson is in a bathysphere, down by the bottom of the ocean. He's got tanks of an experimental gas with him with which to preserve the strange uncatalogued fish he hopes to catch down here. This gas suspends their biological processes so they won't die on the way to the surface. (Don't ask me if this makes any sense, please.) There is some kind of accident, and the 'sphere gets separated from the ship above, and Steve is doomed to die when the oxygen runs out. As he begins to get a little goofy from fear of death and the change in oxygen levels in the 'sphere, he accidentally fills the 'sphere with the preservative gas, so that he is put into suspended animation.
In the year 2533 a hurricane washes the 'sphere ashore, cracking its glass and waking up Dawson. Wandering around, he sees a domed city and meets a beautiful blonde. When she tells him what year it is, he is heartsick at the thought that his fiance, Marian, is dust in a grave that he'll never see, and that he'll never again see the beautiful New York City that he knew in the 1940s. Here we have a protagonist with whose plight I can identify!
All that had bound him to life, all his friends, his cities, his world, dissolved into gray dust. There was emptiness in Dawson's chest. He did not want to open his eyes.I feel your pain, Steverino!
The blonde, Bethya Dorn, introduces Dawson to Fered Yolath, her fiance and a scientist. Dawson gets to know this future world, with its fragile-looking cities of "towers and minarets and swooping ramps and arches" in "delicate pastel tints" protected from the weather by force field domes; its aircraft controlled by "robot machinery" guided by "radio beams;" its advanced medical technology; its robots who do all the work so people can have lots of free time. Is this Utopia? Dawson is very skeptical--people seem to lack initiative, to have no self reliance, they are like children who look to the government for everything.
An example: the government keeps all scientific knowledge under strict control. Fered has a new theory about vibrations, and the world government in Washington, a Council of six people, takes over this research from him. Then they put Fered on the Council, another member suddenly having died. Council members serve for life, and are allowed no family or social life--Fered's marriage to Bethya is off! When Bethya and Dawson are given an audience with the Council, Fered seems different, very cold and emotionless, and Bethya's heart is broken--has the Council done something to his brain, forced him to join them as a means of co-opting him because his scientific research threatened their rule? Bethya isn't the only one to suffer a shock in the Council chamber--Dawson is stunned to find that one of the Council members, Laurena San, looks just like Marian, his fiance from back in 1940! The Council is curious about a man from six hundred years ago, so they give him lots of tests-- suspicious Steve intentionally does poorly on the tests, hoping they will think he is a dolt and thus no threat.
The attack is a disaster; the aircraft is shot down by robot missiles, killing many of Dawson's accomplices (luckily Bethya was left behind with some other dissident brainiacs), and Dawson is captured. The Council tells him that its rule has made everybody happy, that initiative like his is like a vestigial organ--maybe it was useful in the past, but today, like an appendix, is only a source of trouble that is best removed.
Before he is sent to the "psycho-machine" for his initiative-ectomy, Dawson is allowed to wander around the grounds of the Council building, a prisoner but with a large cage. The female member of the Council who looks like his lost girlfriend, Laurena Sen, often visits with him, and they fall in love. He convinces her to let him see some of the information the Council is keeping from the populace, and learns they have an alien spaceship that crashed on Earth long ago!
Through ingenious means Dawson contacts Bethya and the other conspirators, who build a new ray cannon--this one negates light, creating total darkness in its area of effect. They also make goggles that counteract the effect. Dawson uses his intimacy with Laurena Sen to steal some keys and just before his friends attack he explores the secret parts of the vast Council building, and learns the astonishing truth--the Council is not human! That spaceship that crashed was crewed by well-nigh-immortal spider-like aliens the size of your fist! These arachnid a-holes remove the brains of the people selected to be on the Council and scuttle into their skulls, where they control their bodies like vehicles--these fiends have ruled the Earth this way for centuries!
The attack this time is a success. The aliens are wiped out. I would have preferred a grim ending, with Bethya or Dawson gunning down Laurena's alien-infested body. But it turns out Laurena is not an alien, but a real human--the aliens had one real human on their Council to give them a human perspective. We could still have a grim ending with Bethya or Dawson gunning down Laurena because she is a traitor to our race and an accessory to the murder of Fered. But it turns out the aliens preserved Fered's valuable brain, and Laurena can re-implant it in Fered's skull. Laurena puts Bethya's fiance back together again, and then Dawson and Laurena steal that spaceship and live happily ever after, together exploring the galaxy.
I am the precise audience for a story about a guy who thinks life is no longer worth living after losing his girlfriend and the New York City he knew, and that tells you big government is infantilizing and humiliating, so I was rooting for Kuttner here, but I wasn't as happy with "Remember Tomorrow" as I would have liked to have been. Setting aside my desire for a less happy, less contrived ending, I think the basic plot is fine, but much of the story could have been tightened up, made more clear, more smooth--many sections have a vague, meandering quality, like this is a draft that needed another run through the typewriter.
Acceptable. Kuttner, working in collaboration with his wife C. L. Moore, would return to the theme of a future in which people lose their initiative because of an over-reliance on machinery in works that I feel are more successful, including the novel Fury and the stories "The Cure" and "Two-Handed Engine." (Those stories appeared in the more prestigious Astounding and Fantasy & Science Fiction. Could it be Kuttner wasn't sending TWS his best stuff?)
In 1954 "Remember Tomorrow" reappeared in a little 32-page British magazine you could buy for nine pence.
"The Land of Time to Come" (1941)
"The Land of Time to Come" has never been reprinted anywhere. On the plus side, it is illustrated by Virgil Finlay.
This is another of those stories in which a dude wakes up with no memory of who he is, where he is, and what is going on, like Leigh Brackett's "Citadel of the Ages," which we just read. This time our dude wakes up in a cellar with his hands around the neck of a dead guy, a savage in an animal skin. Our dude then realizes he too is wearing an animal skin, has a long beard, unkempt hair, and calloused hands and feet--he is also a savage! But somehow he knows he should be a clean-shaven and civilized gent with nice smooth hands!
Our dude remembers his name--Kent Woodley. Woodley leaves the cellar and goes outside, emerging from a brownstone out onto the streets of New York City, to find that "Nearly all of the ground floor windows were smashed, as though by a mad mob" (whoa, ripped from today's headlines) and the streets are covered with weeds and dirt.
Woodley vaguely remembers that here in Manhattan people are trying to kill him, so he crosses a bridge, I guess to Queens or Brooklyn, where he joins a tribe of hunters. These people seem stupid, child-like (adults reduced to children without initiative was a theme of "Remember Tomorrow," and here we see it again); they are unable to make bows or spears or build a fire. (They hunt by throwing rocks--and I thought hunting with a bone spear on Iskar with Leigh Brackett was rough!) From his new tribe Woodley learns that people now are practically immortal, never aging (kids stay kids!), only dying from injury or starvation. Apparently, when the cataclysm that destroyed society struck, everybody became stupid, lost his memory of before the catastrophe, and stopped growing older; these tribesmen can't recall the cataclysm, and feel like they have been living this way, hunting and foraging, forever. Woodley is different, and surmises that he was like the rest, a stupid member of a nomadic tribe of dimwits, and a blow to the noggin during the fight in the cellar jarred his brain so that he has regained his regular intelligence but forgot his long period of stupidity. Unfortunately he has regained only a shadow of his pre-cataclysm memories--perhaps most alarmingly, he can't read or write!
Woodley's memories of the New York of the 1940s, when he dated his fiance Janet, bubble under the surface and help guide him through the city. He finds Janet, and she is of course as dim-witted and childlike as everybody else, and this spurs him to take measures to try to solve the horrible situation he is in--he wants Janet to be as normal as he is because he is in love with her and wants to pick up their relationship where they left off in 1942. On his own, he travels west, in search of a rumored city, one said to be different from all the rest, and discovers a high-tech metropolis surrounded by a moat. Permitted inside when he demonstrates intelligence, he finds a sort of scientific utopia where all labor is performed by machines and people only work when they want to, usually on esoteric research projects of little practical value, and spend lots of time in what we might now call virtual reality simulations--theaters that stimulate your sense of touch and taste and smell as well as your vision and hearing, and "dream palaces" where you experience hypnotically induced dreams. The people of the city, which its inhabitants call "Center," are not immortal, but have children, grow old, and die like people before the cataclysm. Perhaps interesting to us 21st-century readers, these people all carry around little cordless telephones.
Kuttner contrasts this "hedonist," "decadent," and "useless" society where people lead easy lives and have no goals and face no challenges with that of the savages back in New York--the tribesmen are stupid, but they still have a sense of duty to each other and daily struggle to overcome the challenge of keeping themselves fed. Woodley says the kind of stuff that would get Kuttner burned at the stake today, commenting that the Center is "a matriarchy" and "a feminist culture, based on convenience and luxury, soft and sheltered and weak." In the long term, Woodley is sure, such a society of selfish and impotent pleasure-seekers is doomed to wither.
In the pursuit of pure science some of the eggheads of Center have stumbled on how to cure the people outside their walls of their stupidity, lost memory and immortality, even built a projector that can transmit a ray that will instantly change every immortal savage on Earth back into the person he or she was in 1942. Woodley asks the Center government to activate this device, but the Senate refuses for fear the savages, once able to use tools and organize effectively, will mess up their utopia.
Woodley's guide in Center is a beautiful woman, Sharn. Her relationship with Woodley opens her eyes to how boring and decadent life is in the Center--she finds she craves novelty and excitement! She also falls in love with the exotic stranger from the harsh world beyond the moat. Sharn agrees to try to convince the Senate to cure mankind of "mindless immortality," even though she'd rather the Woodster forget all about Janet and play house with her.
There is another man in Center who finds the place deplorable--Rogur, who, in a shocking revelation, turns out to be the man responsible for the cataclysm of 1942! A famous young scientist, back in the early 20th century Rogur was developing a ray that would give people longevity. This scheme, considered preposterous by the scientific community, ruined his reputation. When he had finished the ray projector and tested it on himself successfully, Rogur decided to wow the world by secretly playing the ray all over the Earth and extending everybody's life span as a sort of surprise gift--he thought he would be hailed as mankind's savior. Instead, disaster struck--there was a malfunction, and instead of giving the world's population a split second dose like the one he gave himself, they got a dose of some hours. This is when Rogur realized that, due to "nature's check-and-balance system," that retarding the aging process also weakened mental processes. His brain was only hampered to a marginal degree, but everybody else in the world had been rendered a dolt. "I was alone in a world of beast-people."
Rogur quickly came up with a drug to reverse the effect; those people he treated before he ran out of the materials needed to synthesize the drug built Center. This was all three generations ago--the current Center peeps are the children and grandchildren of the builders. Early on, Rogur ruled Center, but his drug rendered the Center population geniuses, and their knowledge soon outstripped his. Since he only got that split-second dose of the ray, and is now like 150 years old, Rogur is getting senile, though he still has the body of a young man. Rogur's senility makes him erratic and emotional--he hates the Center people, and rants and raves about them, making Woodley a little reluctant to work closely with him on the project of getting the Senate to authorize curing the masses beyond the moat--Rogur is more interested in destroying Center and plots and schemes to that end.
While Sharn and Rogur work on affecting change in their ways, Woodley comes up with his own strategy. He pretends to embrace the typical Center life of leisure, and in particular spends a lot of time at the dream palace. He asks permission to become a dream composer, one of those who "writes" the dreams others experience. Woodley has noticed that the dreams currently available put the dreamer in a passive role--a reflection, he assumes, of this decadent society's essential pointlessness and long-term hopelessness. So he starts composing and publishing dreams of accomplishment, some as simple as gathering and chopping wood and then making a campfire, others elaborate propagandistic accounts of American history (which the Center people know nothing of) like the career of Abraham Lincoln or the siege of the Alamo. (Kuttner implies that in Woodley's version of American history, the Alamo does not fall and Lincoln is not murdered.) The Woodster's dreams become favorites, and a sort of underground movement of people inspired by them springs up--these people aspire to a life of achievement instead of a life of leisure and like the idea of interacting with the outside world and curing the savages.
There is a lot of tension between the three conspirators--senile but energetic Rogur wants to cure the immortal savages of their loss of intelligence as part of his quest to destroy Center, while Woodley merely wants to reform Center to make the liberation of the savages from dimwittedness possible. In fact, as time passes, Woodley comes to admire and even cherish the beauty of Center, and he hopes it will be a component of a new, more vigorous, future. As for Sharn, she is helping Woodley mainly because she is in love with him, while Woodley of course is working to cure the immortal savages primarily so Janet and he can pick up their relationship where they left off in cataclysmic 1942.
Rogur, impatient with Sharn's political strategy and Woodley's cultural strategy, cajoles Woodley into joining him on what amounts to a commando raid on the lab where rests the ray machine that can reverse the world's immortal stupidity. The pair successfully sneak their way to the machine undetected, but when they get there Rogur's senile mind can't bring up the technical knowhow he needs to get it running. They are discovered but manage to escape, their identities more or less hidden by cloaks and masks. Rogur, scared, flees Center to live in the wilderness. Woodley fears suspicion will center on him--he is the obvious suspect, of course--but then Sharn sacrifices herself, claiming she was the second masked conspirator, and goes into exile in the wilderness; she does this so Woodley can stay in the city and continue to inspire initiative and sympathy for the savages via his dreams. The clever Senate, however, figures out what he is up to and starts editing his dreams before publishing them, as well as producing its own pro-passivity anti-adventure propaganda dreams. Woodley's cult following among the dream consumers dries up. Damn!
Some months after leaving, Sharn returns, bringing with her Janet. Sharn loves Woodley so much that she found Janet and brought her back so that they could try convincing the Senate to cure just one person and then Woodley could be happy in Center with Janet. Sharn also has shocking news--Rogur has found an arsenal of small arms and is leading an army of savages on Center! Senile or not, he is clever enough to get them across the moat and into the city, where they start massacring the decadent and unarmed Center population. There is some standard adventure stuff, with Rogur tying our heroes up and them escaping, and then Woodley resolves the plot by getting the Senate to turn on that cure ray. As soon as the army that is slaughtering the Center people returns to normal, they stop killing everybody. Rogur, his revenge foiled, kills himself.
(In the "The Story Behind the Story" column, Kuttner not only tells us he was inspired to write "The Land of Time to Come" by a popular song, "I'm Stepping Out with a Memory Tonight," but that Rogur is his favorite character in the story, "tragic" and "sympathetic," even though he is the "nominal villain." In his story, Kuttner tells us, "as in life, there are no villains." Heavy...and perhaps what we would expect a guy fascinated by psychology to say, implying that there is no evil, only people suffering neuroses.)
With his entire memory returned, Woodley remembers that Janet dumped him and married some other guy. He embraces a relationship with Sharn, who mixes the best of the beauty-loving Center and, thanks to his influence and a few months in the bush, the bravery, initiative and competence of a true selfless heroine. A bright future lies ahead as the high-tech Center people learn to serve others and take risks and the masses, now of normal intelligence, work together to rebuild civilization across the globe.
The business with Janet at the end is a little too convenient, and the surreal dream machine sequences are a little too long, but otherwise this is a good story, the pacing and style and characters better than "Remember Tomorrow." Thumbs up!
"Sword of Tomorrow" (1945)
"Sword of Tomorrow" is the only story we are talking about today which has been immortalized in a book, being included in Oscar J.Friend and Leo Margulies's 1954 The Giant Anthology of Science Fiction: Ten Complete Novels. It also appeared as one of those nine penny British magazines. It is like 25 pages of text here in TWS, and is accompanied by some pretty mediocre illustrations featuring scantily clad ladies.
The first of "Sword of Tomorrow"'s nine chapters is called "Jap Torture Cell." American airman Ethan Court, an artist in peacetime, was forced to make an emergency landing in Occupied China and is now a prisoner of the Japanese. The Japanese torture him, and when he won't talk they addict him to opium in order to gain a lever with which to control him. A Chinese guerrilla is put in Court's cell with him--this guy studied with Tibetan lamas and teaches Court how to detach his mind from his body and go into a deep sleep that puts him in suspended animation. (Psychology student Kuttner whips out some psychobabble to support this plot device.) When the fortress in which he is held is bombed and collapses, Court is buried alive, and sleeps for centuries undisturbed, so long that his clothes rot away!
Eventually people find him and wake him up, people who don't even remember the 20th century--they have a whole new dating system, and when Court sees a globe, the continents all look different. What was once the area of China where Court went into his trance is now the country of Lyra, ruled by queen Irelle. The people of Lyra have an odd psychological tic--they are unable to design weapons, a plot point that Kuttner buttresses with more psychology goop: you see, like a thousand years ago, a titanic war destroyed civilization and almost exterminated mankind, and the nomadic tribes who were left had a mental block that kept them from conceiving weapons, the way people are said to repress memories of trauma or abuse as a psychological defense. I guess somehow this defense mechanism became hereditary. Whatevs.
So the Lyrans have air cars and beautiful skyscrapers and kinetic sculptures and wear skimpy outfits--you know, all the modern high tech stuff--but they don't have any firearms or explosives. Maybe you think this sounds ideal, but Irelle and the leaders of Lyra don't--Lyra, they tell Court, is crawling with spies from a foreign power, Decca, and intelligence indicates the Deccans are planning to attack and those jokers have plenty of weapons. When Irelle hears that a soldier from the 20th century has suddenly arrived on the scene, she demands to see him at once and asks him to help them design and build the weapons they need. The head of the Lyran military (a military without any guns or bombs), Barlen, tells Court:
"We've got brains of our own in Lyra. But you've got one faculty that's completely missing from the race--the creatively aggressive spirit. Lyra's like a machine that's fueled and ready to work. Yet she's without means of making the spark that'll activate the fuel. You're that spark, Court."The Lyran general has great things to say about his home country, but the head of the Lyran intelligence service, Hardony, has a more cynical view. Lyra, he says, is riven by factions, including a rebel underground, and even if the Deccans don't attack Lyra soon a civil war will erupt anyway. Court escapes the attempts of Deccan spies to capture or murder him, but then a fat artist, Farr, a member of the underground, makes Court his prisoner. This obese aesthete has equipment that can create virtual reality dream worlds--he tricks Court into entering one, and then the fatso takes Court's inert body and imprisons it in a dungeon under his castle. Farr doesn't want Lyra to build weapons--he is in contact with Decca and says they have no weapons or war plans, and thinks weapons Court designs will be used by the cynical Hardony to take over Lyra. Also, he wants to use his equipment to draw from Court's 20th-century brain some fresh new dream worlds.
Being from the rough and tumble 20th century, and an artist and combat veteran besides, Court has more willpower than any Lyran, and is able to wrest himself out of the dream world and escape Farr's castle, returning to the city to investigate Farr's allegations against Hardony. Farr's allegations turn out to be true, but things are even more dreadful than Farr realized--the beautiful queen Irelle whom Court has fallen in love with is working with Hardony to foment war with the innocent Deccans (those spies were Hardony's agents in disguise) so she can rule the world! Court gives an anti-war speech, to no avail, and a hand-to-hand fight erupts. Irelle kills the gullible Barlen with a dagger, Hardony kills the obese Farr with a sword, Court kills the duplicitous Hardony by strangling him and subdues the warmongering queen with a punch to the face. Because he loves Irelle rather than inflicting on her a conventional punishment he imprisons her in that dungeon of Farr's, where she will live out her life in a dreamworld; meanwhile, we are led to believe, a better monarch will be found and peace will reign over the Earth.
Like "Remember Tomorrow" and "The Land of Time to Come," "Sword of Tomorrow" is about a future society that lacks initiative and the 20th-century man who can shake the place up, but Kuttner tweaks the format a bit so that the lack of initiative is--to the surprise of the reader--not the real problem that needs to be solved.
Maybe by the time I got to it I was suffering a little fatigue from seeing Kuttner use the same concepts already, but I think "Sword of Tomorrow" is the weakest of today's three stories. The love relationship is the least interesting and least convincing--Court doesn't spend enough time with the queen for his falling in love with her to make much sense, and you'd think seeing her murder the most loyal and admirable of people in the city, with whom Court spent a lot of time, would cure him of his infatuation. "The Land of Time to Come"'s Sharn and Rogur, who evolve and have believable motivations, are more interesting characters than Irelle and Hardony--why do I&H want to rule the world, anyway? The science stuff in this one is the least engaging--the plot is driven by psychological effects that are hard to believe and not all that fun, unlike the bathysphere and brain removal, amnesia and various rays we see in the earlier two stories. Another issue is that Kuttner, with all the talk of hostile Daccans and Court developing weapons from the anti-grav technology and dream technology, sets up expectations that he doesn't meet, like an itch he doesn't scratch. We are lead to expect cool innovative weapons and a big fight, and instead we get an anti-war lecture and a hand to hand fight more like a murder than a battle. This may serve the ideological goals Kuttner had for the story (war and weapons may be exciting, kids, but war is hell and we should use technology to bring people together, not to blow them up) but it makes for an underwhelming, anti-climactic piece of fiction.
For whatever reason (perhaps my own unusual taste, perhaps due to its length), the story I think the best of these three is the one that was never reprinted anywhere, "The Land of Time to Come." None of these stories is actually great, but they are all at least acceptable and provide insight into the career of Kuttner, a prolific writer whose work was prominent in the leading horror/fantasy magazine, Weird Tales, and the most important serious science fiction magazine of its time, Astounding, as well as here in the less prestigious TWS. It is interesting to see his emphasis on psychology, his reuse of the "sleeper awakes" device and the scripted dream concept, and of course to read his explanations of his writerly process in the "The Story Behind the Story" columns.
More Thrilling Wonder Stories in our next episode!