13 tales of caution, karma, and revenge, from Brunner

brunnerforwardFrom This Day Forward (1972) features thirteen stories showcasing John Brunner’s discerning style and wit. Correction: twelve stories and a poem. If there is a general theme running through this volume, it is that of poetic justice. Karma. Bad choices and mistakes coming back to haunt you. Evil or unethical people getting their just deserts, their comeuppance, their due. As a word of advice on avoiding such situations and keeping an eye on where we’re headed, Brunner offers this anonymous quote: It behooves us all to be interested in the future, because that’s where we’re going to spend the rest of our lives. Words of wisdom, indeed.

“The Biggest Game” is about a gigolo con-man on the hunt for his next rich widow target; but the tables are turned when the hunter becomes the hunted. “The Trouble I See” presents a man who has a special skill to sense danger to himself and uses it to manipulate others and become wealthy. Eventually, though, he is fooled by his own talent. In “Factsheet Six” a clairvoyant takes his revenge on a rapacious businessman whose unethical products caused the death of his family.

Two of the best stories are “Wasted On the Young” and “Judas.” The former presents a future social system in which the young, up until age 30, are allowed to live at society’s expense, charging any extravagance they desire to the state, after which they must repay that luxury with years of service. One young man thinks he can outsmart the system, living a life of such utter gluttony and overindulgence that he accumulates a service-debt of 300 years. He believes the state will never be able to collect on this debt, but he turns out to be wrong about that. “Judas” is an excellent story built on two concepts. One is over-reliance on technology and, in fact, the worshiping of technology to the extent that it becomes a god; the other is the lengths people will go to in order to hang on to their beliefs, even in the face of evidence against those beliefs.

“Even Chance” points out that just as it might matter to the crew of a plane where they get shot down during a war, the outcome of an alien crash-landing might also be highly dependent on the location of that landing. “Planetfall” is a boy-meets-girl story with two young people from different cultures (one Earth-based, one space-based) who each think the other’s culture is the answer to their dreams; but after learning more about each other, they realize those dreams are far too simplistic.

There are a few more stories that I didn’t care for all that much: one about intrigue in ancient Rome, one about reincarnation, one about fairies with a warning for humanity, one about a Viet-Cong terrorist in New York. And then there’s the poem at the end, which also didn’t impress me at all — or maybe I just couldn’t figure out what it was all about.

All in all, a successful story collection, meaning I liked at least half of the stories.

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One response to “13 tales of caution, karma, and revenge, from Brunner

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