Literature / This Perfect Day
This Perfect Day
Christ, Marx, Wood, and Wei
Led us to this perfect day.
Marx, Wood, Wei, and Christ
All but Wei were sacrificed.
Wood, Wei, Christ, and Marx
Gave us lovely schools and parks.
Wei, Christ, Marx, and Wood
Made us humble, made us good.
— Child's rhyme for bouncing a ball
is a 1970 science-fiction coming of age story
by Ira Levin, the story of a boy named Li RM35M4419 (aka "Chip") who grows up about 200 years in the future. His world, known as "The Family", is unified under the authority and control of a gigantic supercomputer
named UNICOMP, a computer that allocates resources, assigns jobs, and makes every important decision with perfect machine efficiency.
Unfortunately, the computer tends to wipe out creativity, initiative, and passion in pursuit of its efficiency. It attempts to control people by drugging them.
This story is about how Chip learns and relearns the truth about this society, learns ways to fight it and escape from it, and falls in love.
Provides Examples Of:
- A.I. is a Crapshoot: Notably averted, as UNICOMP does EXACTLY what it's designed to do: run humanity with absolute efficiency.
- Badass Grandpa: Papa Jan. He helped build UNICOMP as a young man, came to regret it, then inspired Chip to destroy it, and gave him information on how to do so. He taught Chip how to pass through scanners without touching his bracelet. He did exactly what he wanted, despite the oppressive nature of the society he once helped create.
- Wei Li Chun also counts, since his current body is that of a former athlete, and he keeps it in peak condition.
- Big Brother Is Watching: Everyone must touch their bracelet to a scanner when walking through doors, so UNICOMP knows where everyone is at all times.
- Chekhov's Gun: Levin's work tends to abound in multiple Chekhov's Guns that are sometimes only recognizable after second (or third) reading. This Perfect Day is no exception:
- Papa Jan's tunnel. Karl's picture of the horse. Lilac's perfume. The leaf-shaped dry spot on the stone. The boat waiting on the beach. The blue patches covering up the islands on pre-unification maps.
- Papa Jan talking about the tunnel and wanting things. Chip talking to Lilac and King about the islands. Dover talking about the islands as devious prisons.
- Chip and Lilac read a Pre-U novel wherein a character gets a heart transplant to prolong his life. In their society, members die at 63, and they have been told that the lifespan of members in the Pre-U was far, far shorter, so this information is stunning. The book sets up this information as if it reflects on the recent death of an older member of their secret society, but it actually foreshadows The Reveal of Wei Li Chun's virtual immortality.
- Code Name: The members of the secret group of undertreated members all give themselves nicknames, such as Leopard, Hush, Sparrow, Snowflake, Lilac, and King. Chip and many other untreatable members give themselves nicknames, or give nicknames to their friends and families, as Papa Jan did. Others give themselves nicknames once they reach the islands, such as Dover and Buzz.
- The Complainer Is Always Wrong: Practically the national motto of the Family.
- Cool Old Guy: Papa Jan again.
- Cool Old Lady: Julia, sister of General Darren Costanza, who finances the strike team sent to destroy UNICOMP.
- Crapsaccharine World: The world of the Family seems to be a utopia, with poverty and hunger and violence all eliminated, where everyone is happy and helpful and satisfied. But it has a dark secret. Then, of course, there's the island of Majorca/Liberty, which has more freedom, but less of everything else good.
- Crystal Dragon Jesus: Jesus Christ is important enough in the national founding mythos of the Family for "Jesus" to be one of the four names for boys, with "Mary" as one of the four names for girls. But they always depict Jesus beardless, and as fully human, leaving out all the supernatural aspects of his life and message.
- Evil Versus Evil: The Family versus Majorca. One is a dystopia that brainwashes its citizens to conform to its idea of perfection, while the other is an outright repressive police state. People who escape from the former wind up mistreated by the latter.
- False Utopia
- Fantastic Slurs: Natives of Majorca call immigrants "steelies", after their bracelets, and unawakened members of the Family back on the mainland "dummies". Immigrants return the favor by calling the natives "Lunkies", but not where they can hear it.
- Food Pills: Every meal for every member of the Family consists of a "totalcake", a vaguely described confection that provides all needed calories and nutrients, along with a choice of tea or coke as a beverage. Halfway through Chip's life, totalcakes finally become available in "a pleasing second flavor".
- Future Food Is Artificial: No one who has tasted real food wants to go back to totalcakes.
- Groin Attack: The initial response Lilac has to Chip raping her.
- Inherent in the System: On the one hand, you've got the Family, whose helpful, unselfish, pacifist members would never think of hurting anyone, while the computer that controls every aspect of their lives euthanizes them at age 62 to conserve resources. On the other hand, you have the islands, which are either anarchic hellholes where the Law of the Jungle rules (Americanueva/Falklands) or tyrannical military dictatorships complete with an Apartheid system (Liberty/Majorca). You can't solve the problems of either without creating the problems of the other one.
- Ironic Nursery Rhyme: The page quote secretly gives away The Reveal
- La Résistance: The under-treated members Chip joins quickly discard any notions of attacking UNICOMP, and content themselves with smoking tobacco and having a little extra sex. The Islanders try to attack UNICOMP on a regular basis, but always fail due to infiltrators joining the strike teams and sabotaging their sabotage efforts. Chip eventually becomes a sort of one-man resistance movement when he is taken inside the secret ruling circle of Programmers.
- Machine Worship: Taken quite literally. Religion has been abolished, but the Family now regards UNICOMP as an omniscient and benevolent God. Chip is seen submitting research to UNICOMP with a preface that sounds very much like something from a confessional booth.
- Master Computer: UNICOMP is this trope all over.
- The Mole: Shepherds like Dover are sent out to the islands by the Programmers to join groups coming to attack UNICOMP.
- New Speak: Aside from making "fight" and "hate" into horrible cusswords, everyone is referred to as a "member" of the Family, not as a "person". Males are "brothers" and females are "sisters" within the family. People who act selfishly, violently, or try to exercise any sort of freedom are called "sick" and given treatments to "cure" them of these tendencies and desires. When rumors are whispered of secret island societies outside of UNICOMP's control, the inhabitants thereof are called "incurables" or "untreatables".
- No Nudity Taboo: Members of the Family frequently walk the halls naked. The book opens on a playground full of hundreds of naked children.
- One Steve Limit: Subverted. There are only eight names for everyone on the planet.
- One World Order: Bob Wood, one of the four semi-mythical founders of the Family (one of the two that Ira Levin made up), got his claim to fame by presenting the unification treaty that unified the world under computer control. We learn nothing else about him, not even the manner of his death.
- People's Republic of Tyranny: The island of Majorca, run by a military dictator as an apartheid state keeping the "immigrants" impoverished and disenfranchised, is officially named "Liberty".
- Perfect Pacifist People: Subverted.
- Punch Clock Villain: What Chip inadvertently becomes, working as a Genetic Taxonimist to further genetically engineer humanity into boring sameness.
- Repressive but Efficient: If you can overlook the fact that the Family is controlled by drugs, genetic manipulation, and social programming, their accomplishments include disease eradication, eliminating hunger, ending violence, saving the environment, and terraforming three other planets.
- Restraining Bolt: Everyone in the Family gets one, via treatments and genetic engineering, to make them quiet, peaceful, helpful members of society, who are not distracted by sex or emotions and go about their assigned tasks cheerfully and willingly.
- Salvage Pirates: When Chip and Lilac first approach Majorca, they are met at sea by a man who pretends to be welcoming them to the island—only to steal their boat at gunpoint and leaves them floating alone in the middle of the sea.
- Scannable Man: Everyone has metal bracelets with their nameber on them, which must be touched to scanners in most doorways to obtain permission from UNICOMP to enter or exit.
- Single-Biome Planet: Earth has been converted to one of these with the aid of weather-control technology. It only rains at night, on a pre-published schedule, while natural disasters such as earthquakes have been all but abolished thanks to a vaguely described "seismo-valve"
- Space Brasília: Every building in every city has been built post-Unification, so they are all basically the same featureless blank slabs of windowless concrete.
- There Are No Therapists: Subverted, in that every member of the Family is assigned an "adviser", a sort of combination psychiatrist, father-confessor, and parole officer.
- Unusual Euphemism: "Fuck" is a perfectly acceptable term for the act of sexual copulation among the Family, while "fight" and "hate" are considered obscenities. "Cloth" is slang for lies or other untruths, while "no friction" and "top speed" are slang for "everything's great!"
- Utopia Justifies the Means: Practically the personal motto of Wei Li Chun.
- We Can Rule Together: When Chip finally reaches UNICOMP HQ on a mission to destroy it, he is offered a chance to join the Programmers, who have deliberately left paths to rebellion as a test of sorts.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Chip rapes Lilac, the woman he claims to love well enough to risk his chance of freedom to save.
- You Are Number 6: Everyone in the Family has one of eight first names, followed by a long sequence of letters and numbers called a "nameber."
- You Mean "Xmas": Despite literally no one being religious any more, they still have a Christmas. Plus Marxmas, apparently on Karl Marx's birthday. And New Year's Day is now Unification Day, complete with the traditional greeting of "Happy U Year!"
- Zeerust: In a parody of ultra-modern 1960's architecture from the likes of Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, all buildings in the world of the Family are huge, functional, featureless, windowless slabs of concrete. Several other aspects intended to look futuristic now look downright quaint, such as the luggable "telecomps" and airports with outside escalators to the planes rather than enclosed jetways.