Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 5. 1971
I. Hupert — Three for Tomorrow — Robert Silverberg
Three for Tomorrow
"How is our future society to protect itself from the horrors, psychological even more than technological, which man is creating by his own ingenuity and increasing mastery of scientific phenomena?"
This passage is from an essay written by Arthur C. Clarke and sent to three well-known science fiction writers. Robert Silverberg, Roger Zalazny and James Blish, who were each instructed to write a novella on this theme.
Each of the writers has received the Hugo award, Silverberg in 1956, Zelazny in 1968 for "Lord of Night" and James Blish in 1959 for "A Case of Conscience".
Silverberg is mostly known for his short stories. In this one he shows his originality in dealing with the theme. A light story and slightly amusing, the consequences of which do not become apparent immediately but tend to create thought afterwards.
His story is about someone lacing San Francisco's water supply with a number of amnesiac drugs causing people to forget all or part of their past lives.
Silverberg uses five main characters: an artist, a doctor, a self-induced guilt-ridden depressive, a militant fanatic (shades of Dr. Strangelove) and a stock broker. With these he first presents life as it was before the disaster showing clearly and simply the complexities of a society which could be our own. Silverberg helps create confusion by jumping from character to character portraying them individually.
He uses the same technique when the disaster has struck and creates more confusion. He shows the panic of the people who can't remember their foul deeds and cheating ways, the relief of people who didn't really want to remember what they have done, and the formation of a religion preaching the present and ignoring the past and future. Nearing the conclusion he shows the gradual reorientation of society and its struggles in trying to get back to where it was. The way people accept their different situations and make the present situation real and the past forgotten is beautifully shown. As the routine of everyday life slowly finds a norm you cannot help thinking whether these people would be better off forgetting the past entirely.
Despite jumping between characters the story is written in a free-flowing style which is easy to follow. The tale puts the reader in to a good mood, though a suicide and suicide figures of the disaster are quoted and with the authorities desperately' trying to organise the people, the author fails wonderfully in sobering you up.
Zelazny's "The Eve of Rumoko" is about a man who has divorced himself entirely from the computer-controlled and recorded society in which he lives. He has also gained the art of manipulating the computer and feeding it false information.
In the story he is concerned with foiling of saboteurs on a project that hopes to end the population crisis on earth by creating new land masses. Through a complicated series of events containing the usual science fiction gimmicks and methods, he succeeds in quashing the attempted sabotage only to find out that the project following its original course, killed a close love of his as well as page break several hundreds of others. He then makes a decision, that possibly involves the murder of thousands of people and leaves the reader with the opinion that it was almost inevitable.
This is more serious than the Silverberg's and possibly more provoking. Zelazny uses the same stop-start techniques that Silverberg used, but only in the form of time-hops, giving background and development to the main character.
I feel Zelazny could have turned it into a complete novel. I could not help thinking that it was condensed and this troubled me when the god like decision of destroying the god-like result was made by the hero without weighing up the situation. It seems that the end was decided before the story was written and that the flow of the tale was disrupted with the decision.
James Blish launches the reader straight into a hard and ugly world, full of pollution and misery, all of which Blish bases on the present world's foreseen troubles and its attitude toward them. Garbage reaches an over-flooding point and natural catastrophes take place when newer ideas are tried out on how to dump it.
The characters are developed through the eyes of the main character as the story progresses. A chance of escape is given but is turned down for relief from life's foul ways by death or a remote alternative, which appears in such a surprising way that to some it would not even exist.
The final phase of the story digs deeper than the "couldn't do anything about it anyway" feelings and start to show the little things such as saving cats, saying "I love you" and meaning it matters, and not the once important things as "So you see the Secretary and I were both right," and the answer. "How nice for both of you." The last to quote portrays perfectly what the author is trying to say.
In relation to each other the stories form an interesting circle the first starting at more or less oblivion and beautiful itself; the second sobering you up and making you pay more attention to circumstance and detail, leading you to a powerful and thought provoking decision. The third introduces the despair and the disease of a self-destructed society and then introduces the only escape in death and oblivion.