Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

NINE TOMORROWS Tales of the Near Future

Isaac Asimov

  isaac asimov


  Tales of the Near Future


  Fawcett Publications, Inc., Greenwich, Conn.

  * * *

  To Betty Shapian,

  whose kindness and helpfulness

  have been unfailing

  * * *


  A Fawcett Crest Book reprinted by arrangement with Doubleday & Company, Inc.

  Copyright © 1959 by Isaac Asimov.

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

  All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Selection of the Science Fiction Book Club, June 1959

  Printed in the United States of America


  Oh, Dr. A.—

  Oh, Dr. A.—

  There is something (don’t go ‘way)

  That I’d like to hear you say.

  Though I’d rather die

  Than try

  To pry,

  The fact, you’ll find,

  Is that my mind

  Has evolved the jackpot question for today.

  I intend no cheap derision,

  So please answer with decision,

  And, discarding all your petty cautious fears,

  Tell the secret of your vision!

  How on earth

  Do you give birth

  To those crazy and impossible ideas?

  Is it indigestion

  And a question

  Of the nightmare that results?

  Of your eyeballs whirling,


  Fingers curling

  And unfurling,

  While your blood beats maddened chimes

  As it keeps impassioned times

  With your thick, uneven pulse?

  Is it that, you think, or liquor

  That brings on the wildness quicker?

  For a teeny


  Dry martini

  May be just your private genie;

  Or perhaps those Tom and Jerries

  You will find the very


  For inducing

  And unloosing

  That weird gimmick or that kicker;

  Or an awful


  Of unlawful


  Marijuana plus tequila,

  That will give you just that feel o’

  Things a-clicking

  And unsticking

  As you start your cerebration

  To the crazy syncopation

  Of a brain a-tocking-ticking.

  Surely something, Dr. A.,

  Makes you fey And quite outré.

  Since I read you with devotion,

  Won’t you give me just a notion

  Of that shrewdly pepped-up potion

  Out of which emerge your plots?

  That wild secret bubbly mixture

  That has made you such a fixture

  In most favored s. f. spots—

  Now, Dr. A., Don’t go away—

  Oh, Dr. A.—

  Oh, Dr. A—


  a – Learned

  Dear Asimov, all mental laws

  Prove orthodoxy has its flaws.

  Consider that eclectic clause

  In Kant’s philosophy that gnaws

  With ceaseless anti-logic jaws

  At all outworn and useless saws

  That stick in modern mutant craws.

  So here’s your tale (with faint applause).

  The words above show ample cause.

  b – Gruff

  Dear Ike, I was prepared

  (And, boy, I really cared)

  To swallow almost anything you wrote.

  But, Ike, you’re just plain shot,

  Your writing’s gone to pot,

  There’s nothing left but hack and mental bloat.

  Take back this piece of junk;

  It smelled; it reeked; it stunk;

  Just glancing through it once was deadly rough.

  But Ike, boy, by and by,

  Just try another try. I need some yarns and, kid, I love your stuff.

  c - Kindly

  Dear Isaac, friend of mine,

  I thought your tale was fine.

  Just frightful-

  Ly delightful

  And with merits all a-shine.

  It meant a quite full

  Night, full,

  Friend, of tension

  Then relief

  And attended

  With full measure

  Of the pleasure

  Of suspended


  It is triteful,

  Scarcely rightful,

  Almost spiteful

  To declare

  That some tiny faults are there.

  Nothing much,

  Perhaps a touch,

  And over such

  You shouldn’t pine.

  So let me say

  Without delay,

  My pal, my friend,

  Your story’s end

  Has left me gay

  And joyfully composed.

  P. S.

  Oh, yes,

  I must confess

  (With some distress)

  Your story is regretfully enclosed.


  George Platen could not conceal the longing in his voice. It was too much to suppress. He said, “Tomorrow’s the first of May. Olympics!”

  He rolled over on his stomach and peered over the foot of his bed at his roommate. Didn’t he feel it, too? Didn’t this make some impression on him?

  George’s face was thin and had grown a trifle thinner in the nearly year and a half that he had been at the House. His figure was slight but the look in his blue eyes was as intense as it had ever been, and right now there was a trapped look in the way his fingers curled against the bedspread.

  George’s roommate looked up briefly from his book and took the opportunity to adjust the light-level of the stretch of wall near his chair. His name was Hali Omani and he was a Nigerian by birth. His dark brown skin and massive features seemed made for calmness, and mention of the Olympics did not move him.

  He said, “I know, George.”

  George owed much to Hali’s patience and kindness when it was needed, but even patience and kindness could be overdone. Was this a time to sit there like a statue built of some dark, warm wood?

  George wondered if he himself would grow like that after ten years here and rejected the thought violently. No!

  He said defiantly, “I think you’ve forgotten what May means.”

  The other said, “I remember very well what it means. It means nothing! You’re the one who’s forgotten that. May means nothing to you, George Platen, and,” he added softly, “it means nothing to me, Hali Omani.”

  George said, “The ships are coming in for recruits. By June, thousands and thousands will leave with millions of men and women heading for any world you can name, and all that means nothing?”

  “Less than nothing. What do you want me to do about it, anyway?” Omani ran his finger along a difficult passage in the book he was reading and his lips moved soundlessly.

  George watched him. Damn it, he thought, yell, scream; you can do that much. Kick at me, do anything.

  It was only that he wanted not to be so alone in his anger. He wanted not to be the only one so filled with resentment, not to be the o
nly one dying a slow death.

  It was better those first weeks when the Universe was a small shell of vague light and sound pressing down upon him. It was better before Omani had wavered into view and dragged him back to a life that wasn’t worth living.

  Omani! He was old! He was at least thirty. George thought: Will I be like that at thirty? Will I be like that in twelve years?

  And because he was afraid he might be, he yelled at Omani, “Will you stop reading that fool book?”

  Omani turned a page and read on a few words, then lifted his head with its skullcap of crisply curled hair and said, “What?”

  “What good does it do you to read the book?” He stepped forward, snorted “More electronics,” and slapped it out of Omani’s hands.

  Omani got up slowly and picked up the book. He smoothed a crumpled page without visible rancor. “Call it the satisfaction of curiosity,” he said. “I understand a little of it today, perhaps a little more tomorrow. That’s a victory in a way.”

  “A victory. What kind of a victory? Is that what satisfies you in life? To get to know enough to be a quarter of a Registered Electronician by the time you’re sixty-five?”

  “Perhaps by the time I’m thirty-five.”

  “And then who’ll want you? Who’ll use you? Where will you go?”

  “No one. No one. Nowhere. I’ll stay here and read other books.”

  “And that satisfies you? Tell me! You’ve dragged me to class. You’ve got me to reading and memorizing, too. For what? There’s nothing in it that satisfies me.”

  “What good will it do you to deny yourself satisfaction?”

  “It means I’ll quit the whole farce. I’ll do as I planned to do in the beginning before you dovey-lovied me out of it. I’m going to force them to—to—”

  Omani put down his book. He let the other run down and then said, ‘To what, George?”

  “To correct a miscarriage of justice. A frame-up. I’ll get that Antonelli and force him to admit he—he—”

  Omani shook his head. “Everyone who comes here insists it’s a mistake. I thought you’d passed that stage.”

  “Don’t call it a stage,” said George violently. “In my case, it’s a fact. I’ve told you—”

  “You’ve told me, but in your heart you know no one made any mistake as far as you were concerned.”

  “Because no one will admit it? You think any of them would admit a mistake unless they were forced to?—Well, I’ll force them.”

  It was May that was doing this to George; it was Olympics month. He felt it bring the old wildness back and he couldn’t stop it. He didn’t want to stop it. He had been in danger of forgetting.

  He said, “I was going to be a Computer Programmer and I can be one. I could be one today, regardless of what they say analysis shows.” He pounded his mattress. “They’re wrong. They must be.”

  “The analysts are never wrong.”

  “They must be. Do you doubt my intelligence?”

  “Intelligence hasn’t one thing to do with it. Haven’t you been told that often enough? Can’t you understand that?”

  George rolled away, lay on his back, and stared somberly at the ceiling.

  “What did you want to be, Hali?”

  “I had no fixed plans. Hydroponicist would have suited me, I suppose.”

  “Did you think you could make it?”

  “I wasn’t sure.”

  George had never asked personal questions of Omani before. It struck him as queer, almost unnatural, that other people had had ambitions and ended here. Hydroponicist!

  He said, “Did you think you’d make this?”

  “No, but here I am just the same.”

  “And you’re satisfied. Really, really satisfied. You’re happy. You love it. You wouldn’t be anywhere else.”

  Slowly, Omani got to his feet. Carefully, he began to unmake his bed. He said, “George, you’re a hard case. You’re knocking yourself out because you won’t accept the facts about yourself. George, you’re here in what you call the House, but I’ve never heard you give it its full title. Say it, George, say it. Then go to bed and sleep this off.”

  George gritted his teeth and showed them. He chocked out, “No!”

  “Then I will,” said Omani, and he did. He shaped each syllable carefully.

  George was bitterly ashamed at the sound of it. He turned his head away.

  For most of the first eighteen years of his life, George Platen had headed firmly in one direction, that of Registered Computer Programmer. There were those in his crowd who spoke wisely of Spationautics, Refrigeration Technology, Transportation Control, and even Administration. But George held firm.

  He argued relative merits as vigorously as any of them, and why not? Education Day loomed ahead of them and was the great fact of their existence. It approached steadily, as fixed and certain as the calendar—the first day of November of the year following one’s eighteenth birthday.

  After that day, there were other topics of conversation. One could discuss with others some detail of the profession, or the virtues of one’s wife and children, or the fate of one’s space-polo team, or one’s experiences in the Education Day, however, there was only one topic that unfailingly and unwearyingly held everyone’s interest, and that was Education Day.

  “What are you going for? Think you’ll make it? Heck, that’s no good. Look at the records; quota’s been cut. Logistics now—”

  Or Hypermechanics now—Or Communications now—Or Gravities now—

  Especially Gravities at the moment. Everyone had been talking about Gravities in the few years just before George’s Education Day because of the development of the Gravitic power engine.

  Any world within ten light-years of a dwarf star, everyone said, would give its eyeteeth for any kind of Registered Gravities Engineer.

  The thought of that never bothered George. Sure it would; all the eyeteeth it could scare up. But George had also heard what had happened before in a newly developed technique. Rationalization and simplification followed in a flood. New models each year; new types of gravitic engines; new principles. Then all those eyeteeth gentlemen would find themselves out of date and superseded by later models with later educations. The first group would then have to settle down to unskilled labor or ship out to some backwoods world that wasn’t quite caught up yet.

  Now Computer Programmers were in steady demand year after year, century after century. The demand never reached wild peaks; there was never a howling bull market for Programmers; but the demand climbed steadily as new worlds opened up and as older words grew more complex.

  He had argued with Stubby Trevelyan about that constantly. As best friends, their arguments had to be constant and vitriolic and, of course, neither ever persuaded or was persuaded.

  But then Trevelyan had had a father who was a Registered Metallurgist and had actually served on one of the Outworlds, and a grandfather who had also been a Registered Metallurgist. He himself was intent on becoming a Registered Metallurgist almost as a matter of family right and was firmly convinced that any other profession was a shade less than respectable.

  “There’ll always be metal,” he said, “and there’s an accomplishment in molding alloys to specification and watching structures grow. Now what’s a Programmer going to be doing. Sitting at a coder all day long, feeding some fool mile-long machine.”

  Even at sixteen, George had learned to be practical. He said simply, “There’ll be a million Metallurgists put out along with you.”

  “Because it’s good. A good profession. The best.”

  “But you get crowded out, Stubby. You can be way back in line. Any world can tape out its own Metallurgists, and the market for advanced Earth models isn’t so big. And it’s mostly the small worlds that want them. You know what per cent of the turn-out of Registered Metallurgists get tabbed for worlds with a Grade A rating. I looked it up. It’s just 13.3 per cent. That means you’ll have seven chances in eight of being stuck in some world t
hat just about has running water. You may even be stuck on Earth; 2.3 per cent are.”

  Trevelyan said belligerently, “There’s no disgrace in staying on Earth. Earth needs technicians, too. Good ones.” His grandfather had been an Earth-bound Metallurgist, and Trevelyan lifted his finger to his upper lip and dabbed at an as yet nonexistent mustache.

  George knew about Trevelyan’s grandfather and, considering the Earth-bound position of his own ancestry, was in no mood to sneer. He said diplomatically, “No intellectual disgrace. Of course not. But it’s nice to get into a Grade A world, isn’t it?

  “Now you take Programmers. Only the Grade A worlds have the kind of computers that really need first-class Programmers so they’re the only ones in the market. And Programmer tapes are complicated and hardly any one fits. They need more Programmers than their own population can supply. It’s just a matter of statistics. There’s one first-class Programmer per million, say. A world needs twenty and has a population of ten million, they have to come to Earth for five to fifteen Programmers. Right?

  “And you know how many Registered Computer Programmers went to Grade A planets last year? I’ll tell you. Every last one. If you’re a Programmer, you’re a picked man. Yes, sir.”

  Trevelyan frowned. “If only one in a million makes it, what makes you think you’ll make it?”

  George said guardedly, “I’ll make it.”

  He never dared tell anyone; not Trevelyan; not his parents; of exactly what he was doing that made him so confident. But he wasn’t worried. He was simply confident (that was the worst of the memories he had in the hopeless days afterward). He was as blandly confident as the average eight-year-old kid approaching Reading Day— that childhood preview of Education Day.

  Of course, Reading Day had been different. Partly, there was the simple fact of childhood. A boy of eight takes many extraordinary things in stride. One day you can’t read and the next day you can. That’s just the way things are. Like the sun shining.

  And then not so much depended upon it. There were no recruiters just ahead, waiting and jostling for the lists and scores on the coming Olympics. A boy or girl who goes through the Reading Day is just someone who has ten more years of undifferentiated living upon Earth’s crawling surface; just someone who returns to his family with one new ability.