Friday, January 13, 2017

Why you buggin'?

I'm in the middle of reading Norman Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron. This came out in 1967, which may have been the height of the New Wave of science fiction. It's about the battle of wills between a rabble rousing talk show host and a corporation that sells the promise of immortality. As with a lot of stories written in the past about what to them was the future it's fun to compare it to how things really turned out.

Stuff that's sort of right:
* There's legalized and commercialized pot in the novel's setting. That's sort of a patchwork issue in the United States. A lot of people in the late sixties probably expected this to happen at a much faster rate than it actually has.

* Portable networked telephones that people take everywhere. The book also has vidphones, which sort of exists. Apps like Skype and FaceTime seem more popular in real life

Stuff that's mostly wrong:
* Jack Barron's show is called "Bug Jack Barron" and it's a call-in show where ordinary citizens call in with their grievances and Barron helps them take on the institutions that are oppressing them. Populist TV hasn't really played out like that.

* Mississippi is a nation within the nation, ruled by blacks. Ha ha, no. At least to the second part.

Of course it's not really a prediction form, it's a novel. So how does it stand up? Pretty well. Spinrad does the police in different voices, making sure various characters sound distinct from each other. Of course then we come to women, and I'm not sure it's actually good in that respect. There seems to be a lot of hysterical housewives, even if they're supposed to be something other than that.

Still, worth digging up.


susan said...

Star Trek came out about the same time as this, didn't it? A lot of the tech predicted by Roddenberry has been made real in the time since - communicators, replicators, computers that recognize voices etc., while we're still waiting for warp drives, transporters, and a cashless society. That Norman Spinrad thought of futuristic communications makes it seem to appear something was in the air. We already did have little transistor radios, after all.

I recall we all knew that legalized marijuana had the potential to put the alcohol and pharmaceutical companies out of business so none of us really expected it to be made legal soon. What was sad was when they classified the psychedelics as Class One drugs. Speed never was and now we have opioids and all sorts of nasty anti-psychotics - not to mention Ritalin and its derivatives. Sorry..

Of course, the sci-fi writer whose predictions were made even earlier was eerily correct about several big ones. Jules Verne came up with the electrically operated submarine, the moon landing, propeller driven aircraft among other visionary ideas. The weird one I read about a while back was a novel he wrote when he was old that was refused by his publisher at the time as being too depressing. Found and published in 1996, Paris in the 21st Century describes France in the 1960's as a materialistic, mechanized society where the hero struggles to find meaning. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

As for Mississippi, that might have been a good idea - along with a couple of other states. We could go on from there and quite easily make half a dozen or more countries out of the land mass.

Ben said...

Oddly enough - or appropriately enough - Spinrad wrote an episode of Star Trek. I think it was one of their variations on Moby Dick. Yes, maybe there were a few who saw it coming, the technological... Utopia? Dystopia? Probably a little of both.

Speed was never a Class One narcotic? Likely has something to do with who was taking it and who was writing the laws: big overlap.

I haven't read Verne's Paris in the 20th Century. It sounds interesting - and yes, a little familiar - and it's strange that after all his successes, Verne couldn't get this novel published in his lifetime. It wasn't published until the 1990s even. Of course he was best known as an adventure novelist, so maybe this one being bleaker was a factor in that.

Who knows what will happen with the South in the long run? Hopefully something better than the whole "break away and keep slavery" thing this time.