If This Goes On Story

The "If this goes on..." story is the kind most likely to reach the widest audience and receive critical acclaim, for it not only deals with the near future, but a present-day situation which has been extrapolated to its ultimate conclusion. Already concerned by the subject matter and somewhat familiar with it, the average reader will find the story believable and immediately applicable to his own life. You begin with a single area of society that disturbs you and build a future in which that area has become the focus of society. Most such stories cannot escape being "warnings" to the reader, and therein lies half of their entertainment value. The most frightening things, after all, are those which are so familiar that we have come to discount them—until we abruptly see a dark and ugly side that shows us what we have been living with all unawares. A few examples should explain the form.

In a short novel, appropriately enough titled /f This Goes On., Robert Heinlein writes of a future in which the church's tax-exempt status and the gullibility of the masses propel a backwoods evangelist into national politics and, eventually, into a religious dictatorship that covers North America. Heinlein's argument that the church should not be given an inch of influence in government, lest it take a mile, is given plausibility by the manner an which churches, in recent years, have pyramided their moral influence over government into a multi-million-dollar-a-year pro-church lobby in Washington.

Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! gives a vivid and terrifying view of an over-populated near future. Here, a man is fortunate to have one tiny room to call his own, lucky to share a bathroom with


only a few strangers. Drinking water is precious; decent food is almost unknown. If our present rate of population growth, world-wide, continues, Harrison says, look at the nightmare we'll be living in.

John Brunner's The Jagged Orbit deals with a near future in which violence and racism have made America a land in which each man goes armed against his neighbor and must live in a fortified house with armor and weaponry and deadfalls. If we don't curb racism and misdirected violence, Brunner says, we'll end up in a nation where sudden death is the norm and no one knows peace and quietude.

Remember, although you are extrapolating one area of society—tax-exempt religion, population growth, racism and violence, changing morality—if that one area has come to dominate your imagined future, it will have its effect on every segment of daily life. It is your responsibility to consider that before beginning.

For example, if you were primarily concerned with writing about the total failure of law and order in the city streets after dark by the year 1990, if you were portraying a future city living in siege during the dark hours when only criminals prowl about, you would have to consider the effect of this development on these, and other, areas of human experience:

The arts: Would art forms requiring people to leave the safety of their homes after dark—legitimate theater, motion pictures, sporting events, musical concerts—die away?

Dating: Wouldn't men and women who wanted to date have to meet immediately after work, go to one or the other's apartment, and lock themselves in until dawn? And wouldn't this cause a breakdown in traditional morals?

The work day: Might the work day of the city man be changed, running from dawn until eight hours later, to allow him to adjust to this kind of hostile environment?

The family: Would people be as anxious to bring children into the world as they are today, if they were bringing them into such a nasty place? Or would the Old-World family unit be restored? After all, a woman would need a man to protect her against the more adventuresome criminals who might try breaking into fortified apartments and houses, and she would have to relinquish at least a little of her new-found liberation, for strictly biological reasons.

Factories: Production plants that now work around the clock, with three different shifts, would either have to close down during darkness, or provide sleeping facilities for one whole shift that would work through most of the dark hours but couldn't go home immediately when their shift was over.

Fire protection: How would firemen, forced to answer an alarm in the night, assure their own safety? Fire trucks like tanks? Armoured suits?

Rural life: Would those people living in the relatively peaceful rural areas be overwhelmed by city-dwellers anxious to escape their beleaguered metropolises? Would country people ban together to forcefully prevent such immigration? Or would the city people stick it out, holding on to their way of life, refusing to opt for the rural way?

Criminals themselves: Who would they prey on, in the dark hours, if most citizens were behind bolted doors and armoured windows? Each other?

Politics: Would demagogues rise to power on the national level, promising law and order and delivering dictatorship? Would national leadership choose to ignore the plight of the cities? Would some cities, in anger at the federal government's apathy, secede from the country—or form their own outlaw states? Would dictators arise in these city-states? Would none of this happen and, instead, the breakdown in law and order during darkness be considered just another "burden" of city life as, today, metropolitan residents view outrageous pollution and overpopulation?

Broadcast media: With more people staying home at nights, would the broadcast media become even more popular? With the larger audience, would new forms of broadcast media—other than radio and standard television-be put on the market? Three-dimensional television? Total sensory television? Home motion picture tape systems?

From this list, you can see that, though you may be extrapolating chiefly one thing, that single exaggerated social factor will have a pronounced effect on every facet of daily life.

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