Friday, March 1, 2013

The Other Side of Tomorrow: Review

Roger Elwood put together numerous anthologies of science fiction short stories back in the late 60s and 70s.  I read quite a few of them when putting together my honor's thesis in college--on religion in science fiction.  He seemed to have an affinity for religious themes in science fiction. I was still on my science fiction binge when I picked up The Other Side of Tomorrow back in 1993.

Originally collected in 1973, the stories speculate on that far and distant time...the 21st Century! And it comes with the blurb: As Shocking As 1984! I'm not quite sure that I'd go that far, but there are a fair number of dystopian futures to be had in this collection.  And even some of the stories that seem to be promising an idyllic future seem to have a bit of a dark bite to them. The focus is on young people and how they deal with the gloomy future...or how that future deals with them.  My initial reaction (in response to a Booking Through Thursday Meme question) was this is an okay book--no blockbuster in the world of SF, but a decent collection of stories with fairly interesting glimpses of what those in the 1970s thought the future might look like.  Well, the future is now--and some of the issues that looked scary then still look scary....and unfortunately still look like they could happen.  Three stars overall.  

Here's a brief run-down of the stories:

"Come Sing the Moons of Moravenn" by Leigh Brackett: A group of young people (late teens through early 30s) leave the overpopulated and polluted earth in search of a clean world with no violence.  They plan to eat the harvest of the land and live simply. They begin to build a dam to harness water for their crops and to control the flooding that threatens their crops. All goes well until the native inhabitants tell them that they need to tear down the dam.  That the moons (there are three around Moravenn) don't like men to build and it will be destroyed. They send one of their group to live among Moravenn's people and learn what he can. What he learns is that sometimes you have to adapt to where you live--instead of trying to tame the world you're in.

"Examination Day" by Gordon Eklund: One of the darker pieces.  It focuses on Will, a young man preparing for his "Big Day"--the day that he will take the test that will determine his course in life. All throughout school, he has been prepared to take an exam to see if he's fit for the occupation that has been chosen for him.  For in this world of the future, every man has his place and he must fill it to keep order.  If you don't fill your proper place or even question what that place might be, then you will be marked a traitor and be re-educated (at best) or, more likely, killed. When Will finds out what his chosen job is, he decides to rebel....but will he even be allowed to fail the test?

"The Speeders" by Arthur Tofte: In the world of the future, the government has supposedly ensured that vehicles will be safe--no speeding and no accidents.  But there are always the young joyriders who will find their way around the laws and restrictions.  These young men find that when thy joyride and manage to break the speeding laws one too many times that they are incarcerated--not in prison, but in Traverse Park. In what seems like a speed-demon's paradise, all bets are off.  The speeders can go as fast as they want and drive as recklessly as they want.  Is it really the freedom from restrictions that it appears? Or is there a more chilling motive behind the speeder's park?

"Let My People Go" by Joseph Green: In this story humanity has been selecting for super intelligence.  However there are always some throwbacks born--"norms" as they are called.  The norms are always at a disadvantage, not just because of their lower intelligence quotient but also because of the restrictions and discrimination that they face. One norm, a poet, rises up as a voice for the oppressed and becomes a Moses for his kind--asking "Pharaoh" (the government of the su-norms) to build spaceships so he and his people can leave Earth and have place where they can be free.  Will the World Council agree?  Or will the norms be second-class citizens forever?

"Night of the Millennium" by Edward D. Hoch: As the world prepares to celebrate the onset of the 2000s, a young man faces decisions about his career choice. As he tries to decide between becoming a laser surgeon like his father or a high-paying, high-profile job in communication engineering.  The man who is trying to recruit him gets caught up in a plot to cause a revolt at the millennium celebrations and Tommy (the young man) comes to his rescue....this causes Tommy to think about a third career choice.

"A Bowl of Biskies Makes a Growing Boy" by Raymond F. Jones: Probably the darkest and most chilling of the stories.  A young man who hopes to be a biochemist one day makes a disturbing discovery about the additives in his morning breakfast cereal...and just about every other food item in his family's pantry. He soon realizes that the chemicals have been added to allow the population to be controlled. Those in power can't afford for him (and others who have discovered various other means of controlling the public--from subliminal messages to a secret organization that runs everything) to follow up on his knowledge and so he is quarantined with the other "troublemakers."  But what will be his fate?

"Final Exam" by Thomas N. Scortia: Two teen-agers are working on their State Science Fair project when they accidentally produce a powerful laser. Government agents are their way to talk to the boys about their discovery and more sinister agents want to get control of the device.  There is also an offer of fame and fortune. Marty is all for fame and money, but Doug can't stop thinking about what a terrible weapon the laser could become. But there's more to this situation than meets the eye and Doug finds that he's being put to the test. Will he pass?

"The Others" by J. Hunter Holly: Emelen and his friends have a very small world.  They are restricted to four walled areas and are instructed by the Voice.  The Voice teaches them everything they need to know and tells them exactly what to do and when to do it.  But Emelen is curious--where does the food they eat come from? How did they get where they are?  Why do all of his friends look different (different number of hands or eyes or mouths or legs...etc)?  One day he discovers the Others and the world changes.  Emelen finds a way to get a whole new world for his friends--and all the people who are like him.

"Peace, Love, & Food for the Hungry" by Gail Kimberly: Another story of a group of people looking for a paradise away from the over-crowded Earth.  These young people are determined to set up a commune on the far-distant planet--a place of love and hope where they will share all they have from food to troubles.  No one will raise a hand against another.  A lovely sentiment and a worthy motto to follow.  But when they start to settle into their new home they find that their very lives may depend on whether or not they can keep to their lofty goals of peace, love, and harmony.

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