Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Book Review: This Perfect Day by Ira Levin

Pros: one of the best working utopian/dystopian societies I've read, clever, multi-layered

Cons: underdeveloped characters, pacing issues

After the Unification, a computer (Uni) was set up to monitor the world, deciding what jobs people would have, who could have children, when people could travel and more.  Weekly treatments keep everyone docile and happy.  Except for a few incurables.  People like Li RM35M4419, or Chip, as he prefers to be called.

The novel follows Chip from the time he spent with his grandfather, one of the members who created Uni, to the times he frees himself enough from his treatments to know that he actually hates the computer that has run his life since birth and decides to fight it.  His inability to be content with his current situation in life causes problems for himself and those around him.

Despite following his life, Chip's really just a narrator through the world.  He never changes beyond losing and regaining his Uni induced conditioning.  Through his actions and observations we learn more about this future, without really learning more about him.  Aside from his dissatisfaction with his life, his only individual actions are pride and jealousy, especially where Lilac is concerned. 

Every other character remains fairly flat.  Lilac especially makes some surprising decisions given previous events.

The pacing is a bit peculiar as each section jumps a number of years, forcing you to become reacquainted with Chip and his current circumstances.  But, as each segment ramps up Chip's rebellion, it does flow well towards the climax.

The main hallmark of a dystopian society is a lack of freedom - evident here.  But this is the first time I've read a dystopian novel where, rather than be horrified by how the quality of life has gone down, due to repression (as in 1984), excess & conditioning (Brave New World), science/population concerns (The Declaration, Unwind) or fear (Battle Royale), this one flourishes.  It actually sounds like a decent world.  Yes, you don't get to chose where you live or what job you hold or even if you can have kids.  But no one's hungry or homeless or without health care.  Everyone has a job and is considered family.  You're expected to have sex once a week, watch a moderate amount of television and enjoy your free time without being selfish with regards to materials.  It's not perfect, but it's better than some potential futures.  It's a world build on equality that needs no money and is genetically engineering people so physical differences are no longer concerns.  The only dystopian novel I've read that comes close to this is The Giver, which had problems this world doesn't have.

This is a thought provoking book.

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