May 9th, 2009

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Thoughts on This Perfect Day by Ira Levin

I borrowed This Perfect Day through ILL and even after renewing it, I think it's still overdue, so I figured I'd better get around to reading it. As I was reading, I couldn't remember why I'd requested this book. There's no deaf character, there's no gay character, there's no gender stuff, the themes and plots and whatnot aren't things that particularly interest me, so why? I just went through all the award lists I was working on, and I didn't even spot it on the Hugo or Nebula lists.

So I did some Googling and found it was only a winner of one award.. some libertarian thing. So that wasn't it. But, aha, it was reviewed by Joanna Russ. So I think that review must've been included in the collection of essays by her that I just read. I just really wish I could remember thing one about what she said about the book. Because I must have read that essay. I don't like not completing a collection/anthology, because then I can't add it to my Have Read list. So I must have finished it, and I must have read the review or the essay or whatever mentioned this book, but I have no memory of it. (If anyone knows the essay of which I must be speaking and if it's available online somewhere, please point it out to me. The book of essays was also an ILL book and has gone back to the originating library.)

So since I've gone through all the trouble of reading the book anyway, you get to hear my thoughts on it.

Basic premise: The entire world is one society controlled by a central computer called Uni. Everyone dresses alike, eats some sort of nutrient cake and coke, and does what the computer tells them to do. They're also drugged to the gills. Naturally, the main character, Li somethingorother, also known as Chip, "wakes up" at various times and in various ways and eventually is in an undrugged state, and he falls in with different groups trying to fight the system.

All right, so that's interesting enough. No worse than Brave New World or 1984, which I'm not a huge fan of. The author is obsessed with cigarettes. The drugged people have been told smoking will kill them, but the undrugged people are sure it won't, so they do it a whole lot. And the author's fullsized picture on the back cover has him smoking a cigarette. Oh well, at least it's a change from the usual drugs of choice for books of this age, which is pot or LSD.

In the beginning of the book, the two sexes are treated pretty much equally, as far as I could tell. They all get to have sex once a week. They only make a baby if Uni lets them. Their job assignments don't seem particularly gender-based. The main character is male, but you can't hold that against him.

But then there develops a power imbalance and a number imbalance. More of the characters doing all the action and all the leading and all the fighting are male. Which, okay, not all that great, but whatever.

But then the main character, Chip, is in an undrugged state and he decides to steal one of the girls he's previously been friends with and had feelings for (which mostly amounted to Hey, She's Got Bigger Boobs Than Other Chicks, but also involved learning Italian and French together). So he kidnaps her and she's not too keen on this, being fully drugged at that point. But eventually it starts to wear off, and it turns out she thinks he betrayed her previously and stuff, so she's still not so keen on running off with him.

And that's when we get the rape scene.

Because, he's no longer drugged, so he's got all these sexual urges, and he was oh-so-good about not having sex with her for the two weeks while her drugs were wearing off. And he's fighting her and got her pinned to the ground, and well, you know, he just couldn't help himself.

And she's mad about it. For like 12 hours or something. Then it's okay. He couldn't help it. And he feels a little guilty.

So then they have more sex and all is well, and they run off together, and eventually get married. And then she's pretty much a non-entity while he goes off and saves the world.

So, I'm actually very curious now as to what Joanna Russ had to say about this book, and I wish I had that book of essays back. If I see it at Wiscon, I'll probably buy it. It was To Write Like a Woman, btw.

And now I get back to reading the pile of books I want to finish before Wiscon.