The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 have enjoyed a lot of attention lately, and for very good reason – they’re excellent, spine-chilling, cautionary tales about what can happen if too much power is handed to the wrong people. But what about a kinder, gentler dystopia? If absolute power corrupts absolutely, wouldn't things be just as bad with the peaceniks in charge? Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day examines this question.
This Perfect Day was published in 1970, at a time when the free-love, peaceful hippie ethos of the late 60s saturated American culture. The novel was well-received and surged in popularity during the swinging disco era of the 70s, but then faded from memory.
This book imagines a future in a perfect society. Humanity has merged into one race, with one language. Central authority has been handed over to Unicomp, a computer programmed to see to our every need. Unicomp knows everything about you -- all your test results, every meeting you’ve had with your adviser, your entire life history. Unicomp uses this information to assign you a career, tell you where to live, even tell you what you’re allowed to buy in the shops. If you’re not happy, Medicenter Main will adjust your treatments until you are.
Peace and free love are carried to extremes. "Hate" and "fight" are dirty words one must never, never say. One character said "fight" and people reacted as if he'd dropped the other F-bomb at a church picnic. Meanwhile, that other F-bomb is just a common, useful word that describes what everyone does on Saturdays with their government-issued partners. Word of warning: if you begin to feel anything other than mild politeness toward your government-issued partner, see your adviser at once to get your meds adjusted. Unicomp will issue you a new partner.
All citizens attend weekly confession, where they discuss their concerns with advisers – including their worries about other citizens. Our main character, LiRM35M4419, keeps doing suspicious things like having a nickname and daydreaming about forbidden topics such as “choice” during mandatory TV time. He’s heard rumors of island colonies, where citizens deemed Incurables roam free without Identibracelets and Unicomp can’t tell anyone what to do… Content note: like many 47-year-old books, This Perfect Day contains heteronormativity, ableism, and misogyny. Read it anyway!
Moderation is the key to health. We need checks and balances for democracy to function properly. In a healthy system, nobody gets everything they want -- and nobody gets too much power. Here are some other underappreciated dystopias that are worth a look.