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Kornbluth, C. M. – “The Marching Morons” (1951)

02/14/2013

A sleeper-awakes time travel story where a modern man awakes in the future into a sort of proto-Atlas Shrugged dystopia: “The actual truth is that the millions of workers live in luxury on the sweat of the handful of aristocrats.” Why? Because “while you and your kind were being prudent and foresighted and not having children, the migrant workers, slum dwellers and tenant farmers were shiftlessly and short-sightedly having children–breeding, breeding. My God, how they bred!… Your intelligence was bred out. It is gone. Children that should have been born never were. The just-average, they’ll-get-along majority took over the population. The average IQ now is 45.” The “aristocrats,” powerless to stop the exploding overpopulation, look to our sleeper, Barlow, as a savior (even as they are appalled by his boorishness and racism). Barlow, who was a real estate salesman in his day, concocts an ad campaign selling the “morons” on the idea of emigrating to Venus, only to pull the old switcheroo on them and have the ships explode somewhere off in the distance of space instead. The geniuses, of course, boot Barlow into one of the ships so they don’t have to deal with him anymore.

This sort of technocratic/eugenic elitist theme is one of the worst currents that runs throughout the history of science fiction, and this is a particularly reprehensible example of it.

Notably, though, Barlowe is aware of the science-fictional aspect of his story. He’s surprised by the currency of the future (“…and it’s dollars, too! I thought it’d be credits or whatever they call them.”) and thinks in his moments of panic soon after he awakes:

“They’ll track me down… It’s a secret police thing. They’ll get you–mind-reading machines, television eyes everywhere, afraid you’ll tell their slaves about freedom and stuff. They don’t let anybody cross them, like that story I once read.”

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