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Literature / The Fun They Had

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First published in Saturday newspapers under the Boys And Girls Page (1 December 1951) by the Newspaper Enterprise Association and written by Isaac Asimov, this Short Story is about two children playing with an Ancient Artifact; a book. Archived newspaper from 1951 December 1.

In the year 2157, two children, Margie and Tommy, take a moment to read an old book. Unlike modern books, this one was printed on yellow paper. The words stayed still, and didn't even change when you flipped the pages! Unlike their telebooks, which contain more than a million stories, books from their grandparent's time only contain one story.

But the really interesting thing was that this book had a story about school back before they had mechanical teachers. Modern teachers are computers installed at home, with different subprograms for each subject. The school in this book is a special building, and all the kids go there while a human teacher teaches a whole group at once.

Margie thinks this idea sounds much better than the boring old mechanical teacher, and daydreams about being there while doing her schoolwork.

This story has been reprinted over two dozen times, and Isaac Asimov would include it in several of his collections/anthologies; Earth is Room Enough (1957), 50 Short Science Fiction Tales (1963), The Best Of Isaac Asimov (1973), The Far Ends Of Time And Earth (1979), Meine Freunde Die Roboter (1982), Raintree Reading Series 2 (1982), Fantastic Reading: Stories and Activities For Grades 5–8 (1984), The Best Science Fiction Of Isaac Asimov (1986), The Asimov Chronicles Fifty Years Of Isaac Asimov (1990), and The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990).

Examples of tropes within this work:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The story takes place in 2157, but it was first published in December of 1951. Students all have specialized computers that teach them in their homes, rather than going to a specialized education building.
  • Audio Adaptation: Spoken Realms made an audiobook adaptation in 2014, with John W Michaels as narrator.
  • Dramatic Irony: Margie and Tommy demonstrate many contrasts between how The Future works and how the present (of the audience) works, as well as between our present and their expectations of our present. The largest bit of irony is the way Margie daydreams about the way children used to go to school together, and the fun they had. Ironic because (present-day) kids hated going to school as much as Margie does, even though her school is in her own house.
  • Exty Years from Publication: When it was republished in Earth is Room Enough (first published in 1957), Dr Asimov took the opportunity to make sure the story took place 200 years from publication.
  • Fan of the Past: Tommy certainly seems quite knowledgeable about present-day education, despite treating Margie poorly for her lack of information.
  • Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: None of the characters (aside from the computer repairman) are given a description, nor the rooms where Margie and Tommy are playing.
  • The Future: Margie and Tommy, children from the year 2157 (or 2155, depending on which version), have books on tv, a room in their house with a dedicated computer to be their school, and punch-card interfaces.
  • Mr. Exposition: Tommy already knows how present-day schools work, and takes great care to arrogantly explain them to Margie, who only only knows what schools in the Future are like. Ironically, it's her lack of information that makes her provide Exposition to the audience about The Future.
  • No-Paper Future: Margie is fascinated by Tommy's book, partly because it's made of paper rather than being a modern telebook, which is read from the television.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Margie thinks the old way of doing school, where children went to a special building and all learned at the same time, must've been so much more fun than getting individual lessons from a mechanical teacher in her own house.
  • Orwellian Retcon: When it was printed in newspapers (in 1951) and The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (in 1954), Margie's diary said May 17, 2155 but Dr Asimov changed the date to 2157 when it was published in Earth is Room Enough, making it exactly 200 years in the future.
  • Shout-Out: In the editor's note prefacing the story in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (February 1954 issue), they mention Biochemistry And Human Metabolism as Asimov's opus, at least by the standards of Boston University.
  • Title Drop: At the very end, the title is used to express Margie's nostalgic wish for the way children had fun two hundred years ago.
  • Used Future: Repairs and adjustments for the mechanical teachers are a matter of normal business for life in the 22nd century. Kids are wishing for the teachers to be taken away to be fixed rather than snow days.
  • The Watson: Margie's primary purpose in this story is to be the viewpoint character asking questions about the book that describes present-day schools.
  • Zeerust: The cartoon included in the newspaper with this story showed characters wearing wingtips on every shoe and overly large collars. The story itself contains punch-cards, with the assumption that first grade would teach children how to make the right holes, and black-and-white television. While the idea of individualized education using computers has progressed similar to Dr Asimov's prediction, the idea of homeschooling parents enforcing the same learning hours is laughable.