Jerry Pournelle’s 1974 2020 Vision is a themed science fiction anthology. That theme is “life in the year 2020.”
Preface (2020 Vision) • essay by Jerry Pournelle
In which Pournelle outlines the basic conceit of the anthology. SF often isn’t intended as prediction. Pournelle does intend this anthology as prediction, at least to the extent of requiring the authors to stick to the possible as they saw it in 19711. So, no super-science or pseudo-science unless the author thought aliens, anti-gravity, or mental telepathy were possible (as opposed to narratively convenient). Pournelle doesn’t expect his authors to get 2020 right and invites people to approach him at the 2020 Worldcon to point out the errors.
See? I am not being needlessly spiteful towards an anthology nobody but me remembers. I am fulfilling a request of the editor. Sadly, only three of the contributors are still alive to hear said complaints: Bova, Niven, and Spinrad.
Introduction: Do We Live in a Golden Age? • essay by Jerry Pournelle
Of course, simple economics proves the majority of the third world can never be raised up even to Russian standards of living but maybe 2020 won’t be completely horrible. That said, even if it is better than 2020, some people will still remember 1970 as a golden age.
Hey, remember when it turned out the whole idea of a lost golden age was definitely inspired by Atlantis, which was totally a real place that was real and not a political allegory invented for a story?
The issue with new jobs is that any new job costs $30,000 1971 American dollars to create and therefore nobody can afford to make an economy big enough for everyone. I feel like there’s an important aspect of economics that’s being missed here, but I cannot quite put my finger on it.
As Pournelle essays go, this barely qualifies as cloud-shouting.
“Build Me a Mountain” • [Kinsman] • short story by Ben Bova
Chet Kinsman wrestles with the difficult task of convincing Congressman McGrath that America should finally build a moon base. The situation is complicated by the fact that McGrath’s wife is an old flame of Kinsman’s.
It has been fifty years since Apollo and the US still doesn’t have a moon base. Score one for the predictive powers of this anthology.
A couple of things about this jump out at me. Firstly, the ease with which Bova rewrote series continuity on the fly. The Kinsmanoverse did see a moon base… which played an important role in a political crisis in 1999.
As I recall, the Sam Gunn stories also featured an evolving continuity little concerned with internal consistency. Hobgoblins and all that.
Another detail that caught my eye was the treatment of cities, which are endless resource sinks the cost of containing is one of the major drains on the US economy. The term “jungles” gets tossed around. Why that term in particular, I wonder?
The main factor driving Kinsman is that’s he has been bitten rather badly by the overview effect, which is, unfortunately, not something that can be easily conveyed with words. Not that it matters because in this SF tradition, even quite feeble arguments are enough to convince the government to build a moon base.
“Cloak of Anarchy” • [Known Space] • (1972) • novelette by Larry Niven
Free Parks allow people to enjoy anarchy … within limits. What happens, however, when the omnipresent police drones stop working?
It turns out that Californian men are seconds away from committing gang rapes as soon as it becomes apparent that police response may be delayed. Forming protection rackets takes a bit longer
Niven’s group psychology may say more about him than people but the bit about a very smart guy breaking a system just to see what happens seems quite believable.
“Silent in Gehenna” • (1971) • short story by Harlan Ellison
A shouty terrorist opposes entrenched fascism, with about as much success as one would expect in an Ellison story.
“The Pugilist” • (1973) • novelette by Poul Anderson
Disloyal Americans plot to exploit Soviet internal discord to escape Soviet guidance. Their security is flawed. A high-ranking member of the conspiracy is detained and provided with extraordinary reasons to serve the People’s Government.
This is concentrated essence of terrible 1970s Poul Anderson fiction, from America crushed by Soviet Russia thanks to miserly conservatives and foolish liberals, the way American blacks serve the Soviets simply because the commie red socialists will reward this service with public office (a development even worse than Reconstruction, according to the protagonist’s grandfather), to the subtle manner in which the hero’s penis is replaced by a kill-o-zap device.
A detail I missed as a kid is that the monuments destroyed by the darn dirty Reds at one point are the Stone Mountain figures of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Although perhaps the protagonist’s leanings could be deduced from his irritation that Southerners are still seen as less than completely American due to the American Civil War even though
“folks in those days were resisting Yankee capitalism and the slaveholders were a minority who milked the common man’s love for his land.”
This is written in the first person. One always wonders to whom such texts are addressed, but in this case the identity of the intended reader is very unclear, inasmuch as the protagonist is confessing both to betraying his cause and to guilt-induced impotence.
“Eat, Drink, and Be Merry” • short story by Dian Girard
Cheryl struggles to circumvent her strict computer-mandated diet; she feels tortured by the sumptuous meals her husband and sons eat in front of her. Cunning fails her. Happily, women are not limited to mere cognitive prowess.
This is framed as a comedy; Cheryl triumphs in the end in a manner that embraces traditional Disco Era gender roles. It seems pretty dystopian to me: the thoroughness with which Cheryl’s meals are controlled, the way this world seems to be crafted for male convenience. The men don’t seem to suffer the same restrictions that Cheryl does; in the scene where she tries to share a shower with her husband, the shower’s software defaults to her husband’s preferences. Of course, when this story was written, the assumption that Cheryl’s desires should be of less importance than those of the men wouldn’t have been considered all that remarkable.
The program that controls Cheryl’s diet seems to have been forced on her by the all-powerful nanny state, so feared in the 1970s. These days, one could sell the program as an app.
I am very curious what my Young People would make of this.
“Prognosis: Terminal” • novelette by David McDaniel
A struggling artist tries to find a viable niche in a world where technological progress and social change have eliminated many traditional artistic roles.
The revelation partway through the story that a far more advanced species failed to develop star-flight even though its star was going to go nova was there to underline a moral: it would be wise to assume this is the only Earth-like world we’re likely to enjoy. Given Pournelle’s leanings, I am a bit surprised he bought a story whose premise was “only one Earth.”
While all the details are wrong, this wasn’t a bad guess at the sort of challenges artists might face in a plausible 2020.
“Future Perfect” • (1973) • short story by A. E. van Vogt
In a world with technologically-mandated monogamy between young men and (slightly) older women, to what terrible purpose will the only American man with an unlimited penis put his unlicensed wang?
What crime did I commit to be sentenced to a late-period Van Vogt story? I’d call this impossibly stupid but here it is in print in front of me.
“A Thing of Beauty” • (1973) • short story by Norman Spinrad
Reduced by civil disorder to second-class status, America is a nation where prosperity often involves selling off relics of the nation’s golden age to rich foreigners. When a Japanese tycoon comes searching for something that will convince his poor but high-class in-laws that he is not the rich low-class buffoon they believe him to be, it seems to be an unparalleled opportunity for one American salesman. Satisfying Mr. Ito’s extremely demanding standards proves quite challenging.
Where Anderson has Russia deal the final blow to the US, in this America’s decline is entirely an own-goal, a civil war of some kind.
Spinrad dresses Mr. Ito in “red silk kimono with a richly brocaded black obi,” from which we can deduce that Japanese fashion may have evolved somewhat by 2020. Obis are generally (although not always) worn by women. Also, the kimono serves to establish to readers that Mr. Ito is Japanese. You might think this is redundant given how often Spinrad reminds the reader Ito is Japanese. Bear in mind readers managed to miss the point of Spinrad’s The Iron Dream.
This was popular in its day, collected in any number of anthologies. In part this may be because the cunning salesman, despite knowing that Ito didn’t get to be a billionaire by being a sap, still convinces himself he can put one over on the rich foreigner.
The main reason I bought this was the (uncredited) John Berkey cover. I had no idea what his name was, but I’d enjoyed books with his covers before.
In fact, sometimes I snapped up books with John Berkey covers when they were actually books with Boris Vallejo covers in the style of John Berkey.
The text on 2020 Vision’s cover is interesting. It’s almost but not quite alphabetical, as though some no doubt long-dead cover designed wanted to screw with OCD readers. Editor Pournelle and authors Anderson, Bova, Ellison, Spinrad, and Van Vogt made the blurb. Only Girard and McDaniel are relegated to “and others”. Was this simply because it made the layout of the text prettier, while adding the two extra names would have forced the designer to choose between font too small to read and an unaesthetic block of text? Or was it just that Girard and McDaniel weren’t as well known as the others? Although McDaniel had enjoyed success an author of Man From Uncle novels so maybe it was just a layout issue.
This book could have been much worse. Only “The Pugilist”, and “Future Perfect” are completely wretched. Most of the stories were memorable enough that I remembered them when I looked at the table of contents (the exceptions being the Van Vogt, presumably due to trauma-induced amnesia, and the Girard, apologies to an author who I enjoyed meeting on Facebook). The scope for an anthology edited by JEP and populated by his mostly conservative pals to go horribly wrong is vast; it could have been so much worse than it was. There wasn’t even one Inevitable Race War story. Which isn’t to say you need to seek this out but it’s likely this will not be the worst book I read this year.
2020 Vision is waaaaaaaaaay out of print. I use waaaaaaaaaay in its technical sense.
1: Publishing delays. What are you going to do?