They'd Rather Be Right

Monday, January 9, 2012




They'd Rather Be Right
Mark Clifton and Frank Riley, 1954

Premise: A telepathic college student helps two professors to create a machine, called Bossy, that can answer hard questions, do complicated tasks, oh, and make people young and beautiful indefinitely. Of course, it only works on you if you can let go of your deeply held prejudices about how the world should be. Obviously, everyone wants the machine.

I don't think this was nearly so bad a book as it has a reputation for. It's not good, but “Worst Book to win a Hugo”? Maybe. I'll tell you when I'm through the list. It was easy to read, tripped along, and was so cheerfully straightforward about its own weird brand of philosophically flavored cockeyed optimism that I had to enjoy the ride. There's a lot of didactic description about how people get stuck in thought patterns; that people refuse to acknowledge things that don't fit their preconceived notion of the world. Which is true, but not especially well described here.

The dated chauvinism is less pervasive than in The Demolished Man. It's mostly confined to two egregious examples of belittling language, that seem weirdly out of place with the general “we're all going to become enlightened, isn't that peachy keen!” sense that seems to be the default attitude.

I thought there were a few lines that resonate still, about people's assumption that the rich and powerful will get the main benefit of any new technology, such that “average” people start to think it's no use trying to fight for equal access. Also the character of the PR person was highly amusing in his mix of cynicism and good cheer.

This book does have a fairly fatal amount of Telling instead of Showing, causing it to often come off as a simplistic philosophy lecture by someone who hasn't quite thought through his thought experiment. Still, it was just two hours of my life to read, and the solution that the characters come up with to the problem of who should control Bossy was well presented.

Also amusing to me: the conclusions drawn at the end of the first two novels to win a Hugo award are essentially the same: “One day we'll all be telepathic and then everything will be great.” Okay, if you say so.

2 Stars – An Okay Book

They'd Rather Be Right, also known as The Forever Machine is available (just barely) at Amazon.com, although the copy I read was at a reference library. As in, you have to read the book there in the building, because they only have the one copy.

3 comments:

La Toya said...

This is a fantastic review. I haven't heard of this book but would definitely check it out even though you gave it a 2 (and rightfully so).

xo,
La Toya (La Toya, Literally)

littleredreviewer said...

Cheesy dialog aside, I'm enjoying the "hopefulness" that I'm running into in so many of these older books, the idea that everything will be OK, that peace and happiness are possible. It's really showing me how dark the genre has become in the last 10 years or so.

sounds like a totally hokey book, with hokey cover art!

Lindsay said...

@LaToya: Thanks! It's definitely a quirky little novel, but I found it interesting for what it was.

@Redreviewer: I love the optimism in a lot of these books too. In general I don't like fiction that gets too depressing. The characters can go through depressing to come out stronger, but I'm not interested in many of the dystopias and/or heavily violent sci-fi books I see sometimes today.

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