Review: All About the Future

Martin Greenberg, editor
1955

This is the third book of the ‘Adventures in Science Fiction Series’ that I’ve read.  I haven’t gotten around to reviewing The Robot and the Man yet, but Journey to Infinity I have.  I have to say I am really enjoying the books in this series and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on the others.  I’ll probably repeat this in all the reviews for these books, but Greenberg’s theme idea is a winner.  Slightly different from the other two I have read – collections tracing the history of mankind and the history of the development of the robot – these stories are each a different take on the kinds of cultures we might see in the future.

I’ll touch on the stories in a moment, but first I just want to mention the Foreword and the Introduction.  The foreword is written by editor Martin Greenberg in which he outlines the purpose of the collection and gives a brief intro to each story.  This is a very important part of the book because it really focuses your mind on the themes and issues to take note of.  It sets the book up nicely because without it, this would be too easy to read as just a collection of pretty good science fiction short stories.  The introduction written by Robert Heinlein is special.  Actually there are two intros, the other by Isaac Asimov.  What I’m going to do here is reproduce the intro by Mr Heinlein for you to enjoy.  It’s a fascinating glimpse into how the Great Man’s mind was working back then, how he used the present to think about a science fiction future, and how he saw the ‘real’ future from the perspective of 1955.  He has a stab at predicting some things that will come to pass  (prediction #4; The United States will never engage in a preventative war), and lists a few he thinks will probably never happen.  It’s 11 pages, but this is a must-read for Heinlein fans, science fiction fans (particularly classic sf) and fans of ’50s nostalgia in general. So here it is, ‘Where To?’ by Robert Heinlein.  Enjoy.

View this document on Scribd

If you are a bit concerned about me breaking the back of this book over a scanner, don’t be.  I held the book open carefully and photographed it.  I have also made the assumption that reproducing this here isn’t a big problem.  If I’m incorrect in that, someone advise me please.

Well, on to the stories.  As I said, I’m not going to spend a lot of space analyzing every one, but I’ll let you know a little about each.

‘The Midas Plague’ by Frederick Pohl tells us about a society, that because of the excess of production, assigns ‘consumption quotas’ to citizens.  One newly married individual hits on a brilliant but illegal and subversive idea to meet and exceed his consumption needs, reduce his quotas and move up the social scale.

The operations of an ultra-secret governmental security force is the subject of ‘Un-Man’ by Poul Anderson.  Working to secure the position of a world government in the face of shadowy interests actively working against them, this organisation of clones is hard pressed to maintain stability.

Theodore Sturgeon’s ‘Granny Won’t Knit’ is an unusual tale of blossoming psi-powers in an very conservative and conformist society.  Exposed skin is considered offensive in this male-dominance and rigidly structured civilisation.

‘Natural State’ describes the transformation of a city-dwelling media star into a ‘mudfoot’ – the technology-independent people living in the wasteland outside the walled cities.  Written by Damon Knight, the story culminates in the eventual collapse of the city-states at the hands of their more naturalistic neighbors.

In ‘Hobo God’, Malcolm Jameson tells the tale of how an unwitting and unwilling astronaut becomes an unwitting and unwilling god to the native population after his mission fails on Mars.

Walter M. Miller Jr’s ‘Blood Bank’ is set it a far, far future where the current civilisation on Earth is a dark enigma to the rest of the galaxy.  Disgraced because of a tragic encounter with a mercy ship of Terran origin, a former interstellar patrol commander is determined to unravel the mystery whatever the cost.

As I mentioned earlier, some ideas regarding society and civilisation permeates the book.  Themes such as consumerism, world government and ultra-conservatism are commented on in the various stories, perhaps not directly but Martin Greenberg has constructed the book and chosen the tales well.

I enjoyed ‘Un-Man’ the most.  It’s the longest in the collection and feels surprisingly contemporary, as if it was written recently and not 50-odd years ago.  The others by comparison feel a little dated.  This isn’t neccessarily a negative on their part, but rather testimony to the strength and style in Poul Anderson’s writing in this case.  The others vary in quality for me, but in general a very enjoyable collection, especially in the light that Greenberg’s introduction throws upon it.  I have to recommend this book if only for the introduction by Heinlein.  Perhaps the editor and authors didn’t know all about the future back then, but when considered from our point of view today, I think they indeed knew more about the future than they were given credit for.

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3 Responses to “Review: All About the Future”

  1. Steven Harris Says:

    The collection ‘The Worlds of Robert Heinlein’ contains an updated version of this introduction. R.A.H acknowledges that some of his predictions haven’t come to pass, some probably won’t come to pass and others are still possible. For me his predictions are less interesting than his capacity to capture the constancy of human character despite technological change.

    • Cheers Steven. Yes. Though the technology is the focus in this piece, you are absolutely right. From my own personal point of view, his ability to make me identify with the characters in his juvenile books when I was young was one of the major factors turning me on to SF in general. Even now, when I listen (I’m an audio-phile for most things) to those very books as an adult, I am constantly amazed by my inner child (a poor expression, but for lack of a better one) responding the the young protagonists in those tales even after all these years. The added bonus is that I can now fully enjoy and understand the ‘more mature’ point of view of his adult characters.
      Thanks for that Steven!! Aaron.

  2. Steven Harris Says:

    So true what you’re saying about growing to appreciate the adult characters later on in life. I’ve read Heinlein for more years than I care to mention and have just finished a run through of the short stories and juvenile books (The Rolling Stones/Space Family Stone still my favourite of these). What struck me was the way many of the older characters are prototypes for later figures like Jubal Harshaw and ‘Time Enough for Love’ version Lazarus Long. And for anyone who thinks Heinlein’s not up to scratch with the theories like Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke, they need to read something like ‘Gulf’ to discover just how intelligent Robert Anson was. Am still learning from the guy, still completely caught up in his narratives, even though I know the stories back to front.

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