This Perfect Day is a dystopian sci-fi novel, published in 1970, in the vein of Brave New World and Logan’s Run. People are born into a happy (read: bland) unified society, ruled by UniComp, which is literally a giant computer. Over the generations heterogeneity has been genetically blended out, and every member of ‘The Family’ receives treatments to keep them ‘well’. Of course, there are aberrations. Chip, for example, was born with two different coloured eyes. In his formative years his ‘strange-acting’ grandfather and an artistic friend each have a lasting impact on him. Chip is slowly awakened to a world where one can smoke, learn French, and have orgasms more than once a week!
Aspects have dated, of course, but I never knew what was coming next. The plot is clever and action packed. I don’t know why it isn’t as well known as some of the other dystopias—perhaps because it was never filmed? Some of Ira Levin’s other works have become classic films: The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby.
It’s fun to read a retro futuristic novel and compare its speculations to the present. The aspect of ubiquitous computing—data everywhere—is prescient, but the fact the members have to scan themselves to get in and out of buildings, onto planes etc. wouldn’t work today. Their bracelets would, in a contemporary story, probably be implants, and the scanning would happen automatically (so, much of the plot would fall apart).
I did find the concept of one’s time as controlled and delegated to ‘useful’ pursuits relative to the present. At least, personally, this conversation between Karl and Chip, about Karl’s art, struck me:
‘I’d better get back to the group I’m with’ [Chip] said. ‘Those are top speed. It’s a shame you weren’t classified as an artist.’
Karl looked at him. ‘I wasn’t, though,’ he said, ‘so I only draw on Sundays and holidays and during the free hour. I never let it interfere with my work or whatever else I’m supposed to be doing.’
Anyone else explain their time like that?
One of my supervisors recommended this book to me, because my almost-finished-novel is set in the near future, and there are some similarities. But I think Brave New World may be closer, and I think (hope) there are some completely original aspects about my work (while I do deliberately play on the reader’s intertextual knowledge at some points). The main point is that in my work people do have choices, many choices, but they have been socialised by the media, dominant ideas etc. to watch over themselves. And they choose to, also, due to the anxiety of having so many choices. They need to feel in control. Contradiction is encapsulated by the mantra of ‘balance’. They are not forcefully drugged or anything, but they are socially pressured to ensure their ‘wellbeing’ and ‘functionality’ are intact. My society is not about uniformity, it is about controlled heterogeneity. It is not about efficiency in general—utopianism—but about efficient and controlled market growth. But my work is being written in the era of neo-liberal capitalist consumerism, not during the cold war, like this one…
If you’re a fan of dystopias, particularly kitschy ones (the sexy aspects are awesome) you’ll tear through this. And like any good sci-fi, it will still stir up political questions. Is it better to be happy or free, especially if ‘freedom’ is dirty and dangerous? What if you got to ‘reprogram’ the society so people lived longer and felt more, could you then be content with it? Isn’t it better than the uncivilised chaos that would otherwise descend?
You probably already know the answers, but Ira Levin definitely takes you to some intruiging, challenging places.