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Literature / This Perfect Day

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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

This Perfect Day 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. All the Members of the Family are happy, helpful, and content...except for Chip, who doesn't understand why he's never quite fit in. Maybe it's his one green eye that makes him stand out from everyone else in the Family. Maybe it's because he sometimes has dreams of designing beautiful mysterious buildings in a strange city that never existed. Or maybe it was his rogue grandfather Jan, who taught him the secret game of "wanting things." All of these things, Chip is taught, are signs of being sick and selfish.

As Chip grows up, he manages to suppress his sickness and does his best to be happy, helpful, and normal. But there are other sick Members who have learned to conceal their sickness, who meet in secret in the city, and who have had their eye on Chip for a long time. Once among them, Chip will finally learn the explosive secret of UNICOMP and change the world forever.

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.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Snowflake invokes this trope when she insists Chip needs a codename cooler than "Chip," suggesting things like "Tiger" or "Pirate." But Chip prefers the nickname he's had since childhood.
  • 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 where an elderly character gets a transplant to prolong his life. In Unified society, members die at age 63, and members are taught 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: The only way to get human beings to live in harmony and brotherhood is to essentially erase all differences between them and control their natural urges through drugs and conditioning. The only way to make sure that resources are plentiful and shared evenly is to limit human population and lifespan to predetermined specifications. And so forth.
  • 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".
  • Freedom from Choice: The difference between freedom from (freedom from hunger, from disease, from need) and freedom to (freedom to choose one's own job, to travel wherever one wants) are discussed on several occasions.
  • 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.
  • Liberty Over Prosperity: The choice between the Family and the Islands. In the Family, Chip is provided with everything one could need to live a comfortable and contented life, but has no personal liberty. On the Islands, no one can control him, but he must work in order to subsist. Probably not coincidence that the island where he lands is named Liberty.
  • 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.
  • Most Common Superpower: All of the "sick" members tend to have a physical trait that sets them apart from the rest of the Family: Chip has a green eye, Snowflake has white skin, King is noticeably taller than average, etc. Lilac's unusual trait is...her large breasts. Guess who Chip falls in love with.
  • Newspeak: 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: The Family has no shame about nudity, possibly because they're raised to view one another as completely equal and interchangeable, partially because they're genetically engineered to looked identical save for genital differences. Members walk the hallways naked, use the toilet in front of one another without embarrassment, and the book opens on a playground full of hundreds of naked children. Chip and Lilac are praised by their Majorca landlord for not walking around naked like some other former Members.
  • 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.
  • Planet of Steves: Everyone in the Family (which makes up most of the world's population) has one of eight names—Bob, Li, Jesus, and Karl for boys; Peace, Yin, Mary, or Anna for girls—followed by a string of numbers.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: What Chip inadvertently becomes, working as a Genetic Taxonomist 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.
  • We Will Have Euthanasia in the Future: Family members are taught that the human lifespan is around 62 years and that it used to be much, much shorter before the Unification brought about health through treatments. Turns out that UNICOMP has determined that 62 years is the maximum for human productivity and that everyone is secretly euthanized via an overdose administered through their regular treatments at around that age.
  • 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.