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