A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Age of Romance

PALEOFUTURE clues us in to the way the future was. 

In the year 1933 physician Ira S. Wile predicted what marriage would be like in 2033.  In his day, Darwinism was all the rage, and all the Best Thinkers were looking forward to the day when marriage would be put on a rational and scientific basis.  In this future, there would be

"a bureau of records under government control that would begin monitoring people the day they were born. ...Everything about a person would be recorded; from someone's physical and mental defects at birth to the subjective progress and imperfections of that person throughout their life. Then, when someone wished to be married, they would be assessed by bureaucrats and found a suitable mate based upon case cards that have been cross-indexed against members of the opposite sex. These assessments would be made based on class and desirable physical and mental traits." 
There is something just a little bit creepy about this brave new world, with its whiff of scientism, Darwinism, Nietzsche, and Aldous Huxley.  It is also Art Deco.  However, even by 1967, we have biologist James Bonner being interviewed by Walter Cronkite on 21st Century:
Bonner: Each baby, when it's born, must donate some of his sex cells, sperm or eggs, and these are put in a deep freeze and just kept. The person leads his life, and dies. And after he's all dead and gone, so the heat of passion is taken out of the matter, a committee meets and studies his life.

Cronkite: So during his lifetime then, he hasn't had any children?
Bonner: He's been sterilized, and hasn't had any children in the normal way. After he's dead and gone, the committee meets and reviews his life and asks, 'Would we like to have some more people like him?' If the answer's no they take out his sex cells of the deep freeze and throw them away. But if the answer's yes then they use him to fertilize eggs similarly selected on the basis of review and validation of a person's contributions during his lifetime. He just doesn't get to brazenly go out and propagate his own genes without assuring himself and everyone else that they're the best possible genes.
I am reminded of something which IIRC P.A.M.Dirac once said of a physics paper.  "It isn't even wrong!"  Perhaps Bonner was unable to pick up chicks and comforted himself with a committee posthumously selecting his uebermenschliche superior genes.  Or maybe not.  Curiously, his obituary in the NYTimes made no mention of his views on this show; so maybe they were just for show.  

In 1930, a movie Just Imagine just imagined life in 1980, fifty years in the future.  Lindbergh had crossed the Atlantic a scant three years before, but the movie imagined that huge "air-liners" would do so routinely.  However, in 1980 there would be "a marriage tribunal which confers a desired maiden on the most worthy of her suitors."  In the movie, the hero J-21 (John Garrick), an ocean air-liner pilot, loves LN-18 (Maureen O'Sullivan), but a newspaper publisher MT-3 (Kenneth Thomson), wins the tribunal's approval. J-21 must prove to the tribunal that he is an uebermensch superior mate to LN-18.  Since crossing the Atlantic by air is no big deal, he shows himself a superior male by making the first trip to Mars.  (In this movie, apparently, Mars does not need women, but desperately needs clothing for them, setting up the trend for scantily-clad Space Princesses that has continued ever since.)

There is also a man from 1930 - the vaudeville comedian El Brendel, who is the top billing.  There is an echo of this in Heinlein's Beyond This Horizon, in which a "sleeper" from the old days is awakened in the future of the novel to give the readers a contemporary POV for Life in the Future.

There are more videos from the movie here.  Here is where they meet the Martians.  Note the sophisticated humor and steamy sex.

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