the Little Red Reviewer

The Case Against Tomorrow, by Frederik Pohl

Posted on: January 17, 2013


SAM_2429The Case Against Tomorrow (collection) by Frederik Pohl

Printed in 1957, stories originally published between 1954 – 1956

Where I got it: bought used

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America in the 1950s – WWII had ended but Korea and the Cold War were ramping up, the American economy was booming, with more production, more consumerism, more home ownership, more children entering school, and a new concept called “suburbia”. Public schools became integrated, racial tensions and national anxieties soared, McCarthyism was born.  It was a time of changes. Frederick Pohl observed and satirized everything around him – society, consumerism, politics, hubris,  and conservative views on race and class.  His matter of fact writing style feels like Vonnegut at times, and chillingly like Shirley Jackson at other times. Not every story in The Case Against Tomorrow is satire, but in my opinion most of them are.

Here are my thoughts on the 6 stories included in this thin little volume.

The Midas Plague (1954) –  Morey Fry has just married his beautiful bride, and at first everything is blissful, as is often the case with young love. They certainly aren’t rich, but they work as hard as they can and dutifully get their quota book stamped and inspected for their clothing and food and furniture.  But how much veal and expensive liquor and fancy clothes and opera tickets can two people possibly go through?  As the robots tirelessly work to efficiently build and manufacture as many consumer goods as they can, the consumers must work just as tirelessly to use all these consumer goods. It’s a closed system, after all. Wealth means escape from the system, thus a poorer family is required to eat more three course meals, use up more luxury goods,  go through more pairs of shoes, have a larger house that’s filled with yet more furniture.  And when Morey accidentally comes up with a solution, will he be labeled traitor or hero? A highly entertaining and eye opening satire of consumerism and an unchecked manufacturing industry.  The longest and best story in the collection.

The Census Takers  (1955) – this is one way to solve an overpopulation issue.  Cities can only handle so many people, so when a count is taken the overage must be handled.  And there is no escaping the census. Told through the eyes of our narrator, who passes judgement on large families (and everybody else), and convinces one patriarch to make the ultimate sacrifice to save his children. So obsessed with counting, overing, and handling, the supervisors and enumerators are blinded to what’s happening right under their eyes. Satirical and creepy!

The Candle Lighter (1955) – Jaffa Doane has just become the new Terran ambassador on Mars, and like many Earthlings he sees the Martians as barely a step up from Bronze Age savages. They might have nice architecture but they sure have some strange beliefs. Thinking that humans can cure Martians through the power of touch? and their punishments for “bad thinking”? how idiotic are they? Maybe one day the Martians will be civilized. Doane is  horrified to learn he is expected to pass judgement and then perform the execution of a Martian convicted of a crime.  The only way Doane is going to survive his assignment is to look at everything in a completely new light and rethink his view of “civilized”.

The Celebrated No-Hit Inning (1956) – Boley might be the best baseball pitcher American has ever seen, but does he have to be so obnoxious about it?  A braggart, he shows up to practice when he feels like it and pitches how he wishes, regardless of the requests of the coaches.  Who knew that all it would take is a time machine to show Boley some humility? and oh, the time machine? that’s not the twist of the story, not by a longshot.  I missed plenty of the  Baseball slang, but this was another one of my favorites in the collection.

Wapshot’s Demon (1956) – Fortune telling is impossible, right? Impossible and illegal. But Cleon Wapshot has managed to make it possible, at least if it’s a yes or no question, and his mechanical contraption is never wrong.  There’s a question you should never, ever ask a magical yes/no machine.

My Lady Green Sleeves (1956) –  The Estates General Correction Facility gets some pretty dangerous criminals. Their newest prisoner, Sue-Ann Bradley, is nearly immediately sent to the high security disciplinary block where all she hears is the screams of her fellow inmates. “Green Sleeves” refers to the straightjackets the prisoners of the disciplinary block must wear.  Beyond the straightjackets, they are kept imprisoned by a gravitational field that has some disturbing side effects.  But what could all these people have done to be imprisoned? There are no murderers or burglars here.  these prisoners are guilty of acting outside their Category Class, of not know their place. Why would an architect want to paint? why would a CPA want to venture into legal research?  Why would a professional ever do the work of a greaser or a laborer, and why would a laborer ever think they could be capable of doing the work of a professional? and good Lord let’s not get started on dating between the Category Classes!   While the characters didn’t grab my attention (at all), the biting satire made up for it! This should be required reading for High School classes when they study post World War II America.

This was my first Frederik Pohl, and it certainly won’t be my last.  Author of over 50 novels and more than 125 short stories, winner of the Hugo and Nebula (among other literary awards), Mr. Pohl is still at it at the magnificent age of 93.  His most recent novel, All The Lives He Led was published in 2011.  If you happened to be at Worldcon in 2010, he won Best Fan Writer for his blog, which is still quite active.  I’ve got to say, I’m in awe.  This is a guy who watched America enter the modern and post modern age. He’s been a part of golden age science fiction, he’s been a part of cyberpunk, he’s seen everything in between, he’s watched Science Fiction evolve over the decades into what us young ‘uns call contemporary SF.  It’s got to be really amazing to be Fred Pohl. Please take the time to visit his blog, and to read a very amusing interview he did a few years ago.

7 Responses to "The Case Against Tomorrow, by Frederik Pohl"

I pruned my book collection in half recently (down to 5,000 books!). I couldn’t remember most of the Pohl I’d read, but I remembered that it was good. I saved several collections of shorts; need to dig them out and read them!

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A wonderful Powers’ cover… need to read The Census Takers (1955) — love overpopulation themed stories. I’ll put it on my list on the subject…

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The story is actually from 1956….

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Is this really your first Pohl novel? Gateway generally comes recommended, though I haven’t read it since my less discriminating adolescence. Space Merchants is grand. Stopping at Slowyear is very good, tho it’s almost better to come to that later on, so you can be properly agog at the lack of snark. Search the Sky and Mining the Oort are less awesome.

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Haven’t read this book but I do enjoy Pohl’s writing. Space Merchants is a favorite. I have a tattered copy around somewhere and was even considering it as a reread this month … but there are too many other books I haven’t read yet that need reading!

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Just so you all know, Space Merchants is CO-written with C. M. Kornbluth — they were a prolific writing team. Pohl by himself is substantially different than the co-written works…..

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I can’t recall reading any Pohl before, but it sounds like I need to add him to the list. Thanks for that little history recap before diving into the stories; helped put things in perspective.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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