Book Review: One Million Tomorrows (variant title: 1 Million Tomorrows), Bob Shaw (1971)

(Diane and Leon Dillon’s cover for the 1971 edition of One Million Tomorrows (1971), Bob Shaw)

3/5 (Average)

One Million Tomorrows (1971) is the second of Bob Shaw’s science fiction novels I’ve read.  The first, Ground Zero Man (1971), suffered from an extreme case of grating melodrama which weakened the insightful central message — the ever evolving danger (and nature) of nuclear war.

One Million Tomorrows attempts, in a dubious manner, to tackle another standard trope — immortality.  That is, immortality with a catch, the sterilization and complete loss of sexual drive of all men who take the drug.  Women, on the other-hand, become ageless and maintain whatever level of sexual desire they had when they took the treatments.  The age you take the drug will be the “age” you remain for the rest of your life.

Unfortunately, all the fascinating social science fiction aspects are subordinated about halfway through to a hackneyed who’s trying to kill me “mystery.”  The result is hardly surprising and the end is dull, but thankfully, not that melodramatic.  Bob Shaw has proved himself a middling author whose works should be picked up every now and then — single afternoon (or plane trip) sorts of a reads.

Brief Plot Summary (limited spoilers)

Will Carewe, who works for a pharmaceutical company, is happily married to Athene.  Because the immortality drug destroys the sexual desire of men, Carewe and his wife have put off taking the serum.  Carewe’s marriage is considered unusual because of the small number of men who haven’t taken the drug often marry more than one woman.

Desiring to save his marriage Carewe jumps at the chance to test a new immortality serum (before it released to the public) which has no known side effects.  However, in order to prevent societal chaos his company requires him to pretend he’s taken the normal drug.  As a result, he ruins his marriage because he must pretend he’s a “cool” (he shaves off all of his hair, pretends he has no urges, etc).

In a state of extreme depression he leaves for Africa and joins an organization under the United Nations umbrella which forcibly rounds up and inject various tribesmen over sixteen who refuse to take the immortality serum — of course, in the name of human rights.  This is by far the most interesting section of the work — the sequence where Carewe reluctantly participates in the sterilization of various tribesman has a harrowing quality.  While in Africa Carewe discovers that someone is trying to kill him!

Final Thoughts

I found the first half of the work thought-provoking and occasionally disturbing.  For example, there’s a scene during Carewe’s flight to Africa where he encounters an infant whose mother has administered him (illegally) the immortality serum.  For the most part Shaw’s projected society is well-thought out.  However, sections are downright over-the-top (women joining priapic clubs due to the lack of suitable men).

What would happen to the institution of marriage if men essentially became eunuchs?  What would happen to those who refuse to take a drug which will grant immortality?

Sadly, when Carewe discovers that someone is out to kill him the novel makes an abrupt shift from social commentary and interesting character development to a predictably plotted action oriented (there’s even a fight scene in a factory and a plane crash!) pot-boiler.

Vaguely recommended.  But, there are so many better works of social science fiction from the 70s…

15 thoughts on “Book Review: One Million Tomorrows (variant title: 1 Million Tomorrows), Bob Shaw (1971)

  1. Interesting quote 70s quote from Malzberg on Astounding… have you read nay Malzberg. According to ISFDB, he wrote novels between 1968 and 1982. I happen to have one novel of his, The Last Transaction (1977). I’ll review it as soon as I finished Michael Cobley’s 606-page Orphaned Worlds and 467-paged first-print The Ascendant Stars (the second and final books of the trilogy). With the “worst flood ever” having arrived in my neighborhood already, I’ll be stuck at home for a while. Perfect time to catch up on reading… umm, unless the electricity goes out, then the missus and I will be looking for a high, dry place to stay

    • I’ve not read any of Malzberg’s extensive corpus or works — he’s known for his more satirical novels — I dunno, I’ve not read many satirical sci-fi novels that I enjoy… Another author I must get around to reading.

      Yeah, I stay away from endlessly long and bloated 21st century space opera 😉 haha

      Hopefully you’re safe in the midst of “waterworld”! Argh, I can’t believe I tried to reference that horrid film…

  2. I’d read that Shaw just for the cover art.

    Beyond immorality, I have to wonder if this was in response to the Population Boom scares of the 60’s? There is a lot of SF from that time that deals with possible solutions to the population boom (such as outlawing sex or having too many children) or even satirizing the entire thing.

  3. Re: Barry Malzberg…

    In the last year or so I read Malzberg’s Galaxies, an experimental novel which was more like a collection of notes for a novel plus some literary commentary than an actual novel. I read it in the collection Three In Space. It was interesting, though if you want to read a novel with characters and a story you might get frustrated.

    More recently I read Malzberg’s The Falling Astronauts, which is a traditional novel, though not a traditional SF novel. Set in the real world, it is about NASA crew members on moon missions who go insane. It is very much a literary novel, with a Kafkaesque tone and lots of psychological passages, some of which are quite effective. It started slow, but once the astronauts started going insane I really enjoyed it. If you are into modern literary fiction, like Saul Bellow or Anthony Burgess or Vladamir Nabokov, i think you will like it.

    I read some Malzberg short stories recently, and liked “Prince of the Steppes,” about a Soviet spy with telepathy, and almost liked “Night Rider,” a Twilight Zone style thing. Five or six other stories I did not care for.

    Malzberg has a presence on YouTube, if you want to get just a little taste of what he is all about. There is a very cool 9 minute video which shows covers of old “Astoundings,” and Malzberg does a voice over, talking about the covers and about the stories in each which he likes. His enthusiasm about old SF is contagious, and a little ironic, seeing how nontraditional his own SF work has been.

    • Plot isn’t necessary. I only care about plot when plot is the stated goal of a work or interjects itself on a delightful rumination — i.e. if a great plot fizzles out completely, or, if a by the numbers plot is pasted on top of a great social rumination (One Million Tomorrows for example!).

      The Falling Astronauts just entered my TBA (to be acquired list). I do like Nabokov (my favorites are Glory, Invitation to a Beheading, The Defense, etc). As always, thanks for the detailed recommendations and illuminating comments! They are greatly appreciated!

      Again, Malzberg is just one of the greats (perhaps the second tier of greats) that I just haven’t gotten to yet! I’m still young… haha….

  4. This actually sounds pretty cool, I think I’ll keep in mind to check it out some time. Forcibly injecting an immortality serum in the name of human rights, illegally injecting a baby with immortality serum… Sounds like it has some interesting ideas.

    • I agree! Until I read the last third of the book… I still recommend it just don’t expect the interesting social issues (the ones you mentioned are by far the most interesting) to remain the focus — instead, the most simplistic of “who done it” sort of plot takes over.

  5. Hmmm… interesting. I wonder if Bob Shaw does just fail at novels. I was going to try another of his novels that I have, but think I may try some short stories instead.

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