From This Day Forward (1972) collects thirteen stories by prolific British writer, John Brunner . A lot of speculative short stories have a slight whiff of horror to them. The cover of my copy suggests the stories within are no exception, it features the calendar page for Friday the 13th.
I snatched this book out of the donation bin at my local library when I saw the name on the spine. I’d recently read through an anthology of short stories and had enjoyed John Brunner’s entry as well as the introduction by the editor, which suggested John Brunner had been a master of the art. His bibliography certainly indicates that. He published no fewer than sixteen collections. That’s a lot of stories. He is perhaps best known for his novel Stand On Zanzibar, however, for which he won the 1969 Hugo Award.
A lot of the stories in ‘From This Day Forward’ speculate on a future where humanity has reached a state of stasis. An equilibrium that doesn’t feel equal or a sort of frustrating utopia. Retirees are bored and the young have nothing more interesting than years to live for, and his characters often take what they have for granted. These are, quite obviously, Brunner’s comments on where he thinks our society is headed. It’s this theme that collects these stories together, almost more than the message of the introduction.
The introduction is short, by the way, and carries a tone of levity that infects the first couple of stories. In the few brief paragraphs, John Brunner warns the reader that the future can happen tomorrow, or simply a minute from now.
I really enjoyed a handful of the stories. I had to chew through a couple of others. One left me totally mystified, but that might have been the cocktail I drank before reading it. (It was Sunday afternoon, all right?)
When I review or otherwise write about an anthology, I usually choose my three favourites, which become representative of what I liked about the collection. Two stories really stood out here. The first was ‘Wasted on the Young’ (1965). Society has reached a point where the young can afford to be young for a lot longer than we can, today. Until their thirtieth birthday, men and women are not obligated to do anything other than enjoy their life. The assumption is that they will eventually become bored and turn to adult pursuits, or become a contributing member of society. The cost of the young is calculated in years. They can live frugally and extend their youth (or lack of responsibility) until they die. Or they can live richly and face a debt of years their work as an adult will repay.
Hal Page spends a fortune in years while he is young, regardless of the debt of years he will accrue. Unfortunately for him, his imagination is limited to how he’ll spend his credit and not how he’ll repay his debt. When he receives his notice that his life of youthful excess will end tomorrow, he throws one last party, hang the expense. At the end, he attempts to shirk his responsibilities, only to discover his three hundred year debt has been carefully considered and planned for.
‘Wasted on the Young’ is one of those stories that is entertaining in the reading, and satisfying in conclusion. The twist at the end is creepy and cool and really showcases the depth and breadth of Brunner’s imagination. I could have read on, but the story works just as well as a slice of a life we can only imagine.
The other story that stood out for me was ‘The Vitanuls’ (1967). During a visit to India, Dr. Barry Chance stops by the maternity ward of a busy hospital to observe a scene he likens to a factory floor, a production line of humanity, where thirty-six women are currently engaged in labour. He is introduced to the oldest and most revered of the attending physicians, Dr. Ananda Kotiwala. At the hospital, they call Kotiwala their patron saint. Chance watches the doctor work and soon comes to the conclusion Kotiwala is a living treasure.
Chance is disturbed to learn that Kotiwala plans to retire the next day, whereupon the elder doctor will shed his former life in pursuit of enlightenment. He will wander from village to village as a sunnyasi, a man in the final stage of his work. The West has discovered the cure to aging, and while the rich and furious line up for their anti-senility pill, Chance feels men like Dr. Kotiwala are more deserving. Regardless, he has no choice in the matter.
The last baby delivered captures Kotiwala’s attention. The old doctor notices something unusual about its eyes, but is unable to communicate exactly what it is he sees. Assuming his age and wandering mind play tricks on him, he relinquishes the baby to younger doctor.
Two years later, Chance tracks Kotiwala to a remote village in India to ask how he knew that particular baby, the first of the Vitanuls, was different. Koitwala is unsurprised to hear the baby suffers from a congentily imbecility and, in fact, remains unmoved by the revelation that over the past two years, the instance of such a defect has risen to claim eight out of ten newborns. I’m not going to give away the why, here. That would ruin the story. Suffice to say, this one stayed with me for a while after. I’m not a rigorously religious individual, but I do have a strong sense of spirituality. The core of this story, while fantastic, has yet to be disproven. We might all be waiting for this day.
The other stories are varied. Some were very simply written while others showed an eloquence I can only hope to one day attain. Most carried a thinly veiled warning, giving the story the feel of a parable. One such was ‘The Trouble I See’ (1959). Joe Mundy can see the future, but inexactly. He only knows when things are wrong and so has a chance to avoid them. He exploits his talent, making enough money to leave his small town and move to the city, where he enveigles an older man, taking the place of the son the man never had. When the man dies, Joe is left as his heir. Steadily, he continues to build his fortune until one day he awakens sickened and unable to concentrate. The impending doom of war clutters his thoughts, and he is unable to find the way out.
I decided this story was cautionary tale. Small worries can direct actions, but a larger, looming threat over which one cannot gain control is something that can drive people to do stupid and alarming things. Had Joe been abl
Lastly, I’d like to mention ‘Judas’ (1967). God is a robot, but even though his form is visible and vulnerable, he is still more an idea than a body. It was Interesting story, one I thought to write off until the message at the end.e to step back, out of his own head, and consider the facts, rather than simply acting upon them, the ending might have been very different.
A lot of Brunner’s work has been re-released with snazzy new covers that recall the period during which they were originally published. I like my edition, though, despite its ugly yellow cover. Within, the type wavers across the page. It’s been set by hand and printed by machine. It’s an old book and holding it, training my eyes to ignore the uneven lines, is a wholly different experience to reading something on a stark white page or screen. As a reader, I traveled back in time with this book and revisited the reason I fell in love with Science Fiction.
Featured image is from the cover designed by Kelly Freas for DAW. Click the cover, right, to view some of John Brunner’s other book covers, painted by such well known artists as Michael Whelan and Jack Gaughan.
Reading Challenge Review
This review was written for Vintage Science Fiction month, hosted by The Little Red Reviewer.
From This Day Forward is the second book from my 2014 TBR Pile Challenge.