Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
5/12/16. Book. "Welcome to the Monkey House"
In an effort to keep every person equal in all ways, no one can excel at anything in this version of the world. If they're beautiful, they must wear grotesque masks. If they're too intelligent, they must wear something in their ears that emits all sorts of noises to distract them. So what happens when a tall, attractive genius decides to question this system?
Harrison Bergeron was taken from his parents at 14. He was too attractive, too intelligent, and seven feet tall. Since that time, he's been in prison as a danger to society. The actual story concentrates on Harrison's parents, George and Hazel. Hazel is of "normal intelligence" (read: pretty simple-minded) so she doesn't have any mental handicaps put upon her. Her husband is another question. Because of his intelligence, he has to wear ear buds in his ears that produce random sounds every 20 seconds, like a 21-gun salute or the sound of a baseball bat hitting a milk carton to distract him and prevent him from exploring any train of thought too extensively. He also has to wear a canvas bag containing 47 pounds of birdshot around his neck. He and his wife are watching a ballet on the television, but it is a sad yet comical affair with Handicapper General Diana Moon Glampers' rules in place. The better the dancer, the more handicaps they are wearing. The dancers are fumbling around on stage, wearing varying amounts of weighted bags and hideous masks.
A news bulletin interrupts the performance and a man tries to read it but cannot due to his speech impediment. One of the dancers reads it, but she quickly realizes that her voice sounds too good for society and she alters it to sound worse. The bulletin is about Harrison's escape from prison. At first, they show pictures of him. Later, he shows up on the screen--the most handicapped man ever but still considered "under-handicapped." He looks like "a walking junkyard," with 300 pounds of weights on him, and he has black covers on his teeth, has to wear a red rubber nose and has shaved-off eyebrows.
In the studio, he rips off all of his handicaps and declares himself Emperor. He rips the handicaps off one of the dancers and declares her his Empress. He encourages some of the other dancers to take theirs off and he will give them titles. The group dances around with an unknown freedom until Handicapper General Diana Moon Glampers comes in with a double-barreled shotgun and kills Harrison and his empress.
In the house, George has gone to the kitchen and he misses all this. When he returns, Hazel is crying but she doesn't remember why--probably something sad on television. She agrees and they talk about how they must always try to forget sad things.
Thoughts or Additional Info:
This was made into a movie in 1995 with Sean Astin as Harrison Bergeron.
"The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal."
Memorable Lines or Passages:
equality, handicap, handicaps, weighted bags, dystopia, satire, social commentary, futuristic, classic, ballet
Fade to White by Catherynne Valente
5/9/16. Read on Clarkesworld.
In an alternate history, World War II never ended. Two characters, a boy and a girl, approach their 15th birthday, when they will find out what their "purpose" will be in life.
World War II never ended in the US and now it's the 1950s. McCarthy is President and society is extremely regimented due to ongoing war, nuclear radiation issues and population decline because of those things. At 15, young women and men are given their lot in life. Martin wants nothing more than to be a husband. In this alternate history, because there are so many men on the front lines and radiation and nutrition issues really affect the fertility of both women and men, the number of men who will become fathers and husbands is miniscule. At 15, each boy is tested for their sperm count in a ceremony. Each husband has four or more wives and spends a week or so with each family.
Sylvie, also 15, lives with her mother. She has a crush on (or possibly real feelings for) Clark, a black boy around her age who is leaving for the front lines soon. She realizes the reality of his impeding deployment and the non-possibility of them being together. Her mother is actually Japanese, though she has worked exceedingly hard to hide that aspect of herself--both in terms of looks and accent. Because husbands are rarely around, women have a very free life, at least in some cases. Some find actual true love with other women in their neighborhoods. Some can explore hobbies, interests and intellectual ventures.
On the ceremony day, Sylvie gets ready with all the clothes and accessories the government sent her, as does Martin. She gets matched with Thomas, a handsome boy with a high sperm count, but it turns out that they have the same father, so she gets rematched with another boy who is satisfactory but not exciting. Thomas is also the brother of Martin, who sadly has a very small sperm count and is immediately given his first dose of a hormonal suppressant. In this world, these types of libido killers are branded names like "Kool" or "Arcadia." Throughout the entire story, there are sections of humorous ad campaigns and the commentary inserted from a marketer. The creative director might recommend a commercial with a group of kids and the commentator inserts comments about how the group has to be diverse, with this many girls, wearing these kinds of outfits, holding these kinds of vegetables, etc. It definitely adds comic relief to an otherwise kind of distressing tale.
Thoughts or Additional Info:
2012 Nebula Award nominee for best novelette; 2013 Hugo Award nominee for best novelette; 2013 Sidewise Award nominee for best short-form alternate history.
"Fight the Communist Threat in Your Own Backyard!"
Memorable Lines or Passages:
alternate history, WWII, mccarthy, radiation, fertility, marketing, advertisements, nebula, hugo, alternative history, lgbtq
I'm just a short story lover and voracious reader who wants to keep track of the shorts I read and help others remember the ones they've forgotten.