Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore’s 1947 Tomorrow and Tomorrow was originally published under their Lewis Padgett byline. It came out in Astounding in two parts. It was later packaged with another short novel and re-published by Gnome Press in 1951. It was re-published again by Consul, in 1961. That latest version is the one I read. Had it been revised in the meantime? I don’t know.
A third world war almost broke out in the mid-20th century; it was stopped by the Global Peace Commission, which seized control of a planet seemingly on the verge of self-destruction. In the century since then, the GPC has kept the peace … but at a cost. It enforces strict social conformity and stifles scientific progress.
Joseph Breden is one of the elite few trusted with atomic power. Everyone knows atomic power plants are catastrophes waiting to happen. Only the most stable, most intelligent individuals are permitted to work at Uranium Pile One.
Lately Breden has had reason to doubt his stability, what with the murder dreams and all…
On the one hand, it sure would be bad if an unstable Breden used his expertise to trigger a runaway chain reaction in Uranium Pile One. On the other hand, Breden is a happily married man with his first child on the way; he wants to keep his job. Best to keep any efforts to deal with his haunting dreams from the eyes of his superiors.
Breden turns to old doctor Springfield for help. Alas, no sooner does Breden explain his situation than Springfield drops dead of what appears to be a heart attack. In fact, the old fellow was murdered in front of Breden by the people who have been trying to steer Breden towards atomic doom. The secretive cabal want what’s best for humanity: nuclear war, biological war, eugenics, and the resulting world of super-science.
Why should they believe this? A disabled person who requires constant care (called the Freak in the story) speaks of visions to his carers; the carers believe that he is seeing the future. A glorious future that has not been stifled by the GPC. They want to tweak their world to reach that future. They’re pushing Breden to detonate Uranium Pile One. That will break GCP’s control, ensure global Armageddon, and set humanity back on the correct path.
It’s just too bad that the cabal doesn’t actually understand the nature of the Freak’s gift. He doesn’t see the future; he sees alternate timelines. The plotters think that they are working toward the world of tomorrow; that outcome is not guaranteed at all.
One of the timelines is even worse. Halfway through the book the Freak has a vision of the annihilation of the Earth1.
Determined to save the world from GPC, the conspirators press Breden towards sabotage. He will find it hard to resist their manipulation. After all, his controller is none other than his loving wife…
It’s evident just from the synopsis above that the Freak is a caricature shaped by ableism. Let me assure you that this is only one instance of the ableism that pervadesthis mid-century tale. One of Brenan’s fears is that he or his child might be a mutant! And there’s some discussion of morons that hasn’t aged at all well.
Naturally this was first published in John W. Campbell’s Astounding.
It is a very Astounding sort of story. It’s not just that PROGRESS! is worth a little pain; it’s that routes to PROGRESS! that don’t involve killing a billion or more people aren’t even considered. Granted, the conspiracy believes that the only path to their desired future leads through WWIII, but I got the sense that the pain and misery (suffered by unimportant others) is worthwhile in its own right.
This isn’t a long novel, but it’s is about twice as long as the meager plot can support. The authors stretch things out with a few plot twists, none of which are all that involving. They do not improve what should have been a comforting little tale about how sometimes you just have to murder a billion or two people for their own good.
1: Of perhaps more immediate alarm: there is an alternate Earth whose point of divergence is the appearance just a few years in the past of a deadly contagious disease that GPC’s comparatively backward medical technology has no means to cure. All die, O the embarrassment!