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Literature / It's Such a Beautiful Day

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First published in Star Science Fiction Stories no. 3 (1955), by Isaac Asimov, this Science Fiction novelette is about a young boy in a world where a Portal Network joins every building, who has discovered the wonders of the great outdoors.

Taking place in 2117, the Hanshaw family wakes up to a normal 12th of April, with mekkano-provided hospitality, until Richard Jr finds that the Door isn't working; normally he'd punch in the coordinates and be teleported to school, but it isn't working. His mother, Mrs Hanshaw, tells him to go out the normal door and ask a neighbor to use their Door to teleport to school.

After that day, Richard Hanshaw wakes up early each morning to get to school on-time by travelling overland instead of using the Door. This unusual behaviour disturbs Mrs Hanshaw, and she tries to find a solution that won't cause a social scandal. However, Richard is determined to travel overland instead of via teleportation, so Mrs Hanshaw gives up and calls The Shrink, expecting to have her child Mind Probed.

However, just by chance, the psychiatrist she hired hates the psychic probe, and instead asks her a few questions and schedules a session with Richard where he merely talks with the boy, and invites him on a trip outside. He quickly learns why the boy goes outside as often as he can; he's enjoying the adventure of the great outdoors.

Not to be mistaken for Don Hertzfeldt's It's Such a Beautiful Day trilogy. It's Such a Beautiful Day was republished as a children's chapter book by Creative Education in 1985, and illustrated by Etienne Delessert. It has also been republished in multiple magazines/collections; Authentic Science Fiction (issue #82, July 1957), Beyond Belief (1966), Through A Glass Clearly (1967), Nightfall and Other Stories (1969), Urania (issue #570, July 1971 and issue #1442, June 2002), Transformations Understanding World History Through Science Fiction (1973), Universe Ahead (1975), Eco Fiction (1976), Titan 4 (1977), Space 3 (1977), You And Science Fiction (1985), The Best Science Fiction Of Isaac Asimov (1986), Technology (1989), The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990), and The SFWA Grand Masters, Volume Two (2000).

It's Such a Beautiful Day contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: This story was first published in 1955, but takes place in 2117. The mother in the story is fairly easy to identify as a 1950s suburban housewife, but the house contains a number of technological marvels suited for events taking place over 160 years into the future.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: A teleportation device known as a "Door" is used to go from place to place. It is distinct from a normal "door" due to the capital letter. This is lampshaded by the mechanic:
    "That's a door, too, ma'am. You don't give that kind a capital letter when you write it."
  • Central Theme: The primary struggle that this story focuses on the natural world versus advances in technology. There are small resentments that people feel about the way that machines are taking over the "natural" ways. The teacher believes that the vocalizer, which reads the children's work in a mechanically perfect voice, lacks character and trains students "into a speech that was divorced from individuality and geared only to a mass-average accent and intonation." The Shrink believes that the psychic probe is "an obvious piece of quackery" and points out that "There were psychiatrists for centuries before there were probes." Even the young boy, Richard, starts to espouse the ideas of more limited technology as he becomes more comfortable with the outdoors, deciding that an automobile was the best type of "ancient vehicle" because of how slowly they travelled.
  • Disappeared Dad: The question of why Mr Hanshaw doesn't appear in the story is answered early in the story by Mrs Hanshaw glancing at a cubograph of her dead husband. Context suggests it is a sci-fi photograph next to her bed.
  • Dramatic Irony: The story emphasizes the irony inherent in Mrs Henshaw forcing Richard to leave the house through the normal door because after that day she tries forcing him to use the Portal Door instead.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Appliance: In addition to the mekkano, a robot to do household chores, there is also the cubograph of the late Mr Hanshaw next to Mrs Hanshaw's bed, the visiphone for general calls, vocalizers to read passages for students and instruct them on how to properly pronounce words, and disposable clothing.
  • Finale Title Drop: The story occurs in a future where everyone uses a Door to teleport from place-to-place. It ends with the psychiatrist deciding to walk home, so that they can enjoy the beautiful weather.
    So he said in a soft voice, as his hand fell away from the board and his feet turned away from the Door, "You know, it's such a beautiful day that I think I'll walk."
  • Forbidden Fruit: Dr Sloane concludes that the reason why Richard enjoys the outdoors so much is a combination of the new and the fact that social norms pressure people into travelling any distance through the instant teleportation of the Door. If Mrs Hanshaw lets Richard play outside for a few hours every weekend, then he'll eventually no longer be interested in going outside, because nobody cares if he does or not.
  • Funetik Aksent: In order to demonstrate certain aspects of dialect, certain words are misspelled to imply their pronunciation. The teacher says "vee-ick-ulls" to emphasize that "vehicles" is not pronounced with an 'h' sound. Richard tells Dr Sloane about the "aut'm'bile" instead of the "automobile". The dialect is emphasized due to the way the vocalizer supposedly strips character and individuality from the voices of the students as they learn a "mass-average accent and intonation".
  • Ludd Was Right: Dr Sloane, the local psychiatrist, struggles against the sense of feeling that the psychic probe is taking away from his profession and reducing it to reading a machine's opinion. This is the story's Central Theme; we see it repeated with the teacher and the mechanical vocalizer which reads passages for students but does so without "character", and with the Door, causing Richard and then Dr Sloane himself to rebel and travel across country instead of the Portal Door.
    "What's the matter, Dr. Sloane?" asked Mrs. Hanshaw.
    But he didn't hear her because he was thinking of the Door and the psychic probe and all the rising, choking tide of machinery. There is a little of the rebel in all of us, he thought.
  • No Antagonist: There's no villain to be defeated, and even the occasional bad weather isn't a threat to characters. The primary conflict is Mrs Hanshaw's internal struggle between allowing her child to make the social faux pas of wandering around outside and the social disaster that would be admitting that her boy might be mentally unwell.
  • Portal Cut: Richard Hanshaw's reluctance to use the Door to teleport to school is briefly attributed to the fear that the Door could break down when he was half-way through, prompted by the actual breakdown of the door. The real reason is that, after being forced to walk to school when the portal was out of order, he prefers to go outside.
  • Portal Door: The Door is a device that can dial up any other Door in existence, and then allow you to step between the two places instantly. It is distinct from a normal door (which merely allows access through a wall) by the capital letters.
  • Robot Maid: The Hanshaw family can afford multiple mekkano; small oblong mechanical servants that float above the ground. They take care of most household chores, such as preparing a bath and making meals. Other mekkanos can be found outside, doing landscaping jobs between the isolated buildings.
  • The Shrink: Doctor Hamilton Sloane is a just-under middle-aged psychiatrist, who lives in the same neighborhood as the viewpoint protagonist, Mrs Hanshaw. She calls him in to help "fix" her boy's abnormal behaviour, and expects him to use the psychic probe to investigate what's wrong with his mind. However, Dr Sloane is against such casual use of the machine, and instead has a frank discussion with the boy, getting him to feel trust and open up naturally about his fears and joys.
  • Therapy Is for the Weak: When Richard Hanshaw's teacher, Miss Robbins, calls home to suggest having a psychologist take a look at him, Mrs Hanshaw is absolutely against the idea. To admit that Richard might be mentally unwell would be a social disaster. The internal struggle between getting Richard to stop the social faux pas of wandering around outside and the social disaster of going to The Shrink for help provides the story's tension. After failing to break him of the habit herself, Mrs Hanshaw calls a local psychiatrist to come over and see what's wrong with him.
  • Unnamed Parent: Mrs Hanshaw isn't given a first name. She's there to be Richard Jr's mother, although other adults in the work (such as Joe Bloom, the mechanic, Miss Elizabeth Robbins, the schoolteacher, and Doctor Hamilton Sloane, The Shrink) all have first and last names given by the narration.
  • Video Phone: Most places appear to be equipped with "visiphones", devices with a manual dial. Mrs Hanshaw uses one for contacting her neighbors, the school, and Dr Sloane. They're used to see the person you're talking to.