The Cosmic Eye
We’re going to start 2017 with a guest post. Adrian Simmons is the probably best known to readers of my blogs as the editor of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. He’s also an accomplished author and a man who has a deep and abiding love for science fiction and fantasy. He shares with us this thoughts on Mack Reynolds’ novel The Cosmic Eye. Reynolds was a prolific science fiction author in the 1950s and 1960s who is sadly pretty forgotten today.
Here’s Adrian and what he thought of The Cosmic Eye:
This is a weird little book, written in 1969 by one Mr. Mack Reynolds. It posits a future of incredible leisure and abundance due to the benevolent dictatorship of the Technate. Bestriding this world like a drunken privileged colossus is Rex Morris, young Techno and son of Leonard Morris, the last living Hero of the North American Technate. Sadly, Rex’s old man had some rather controversial ideas related to the way the Technate is running things, and it turns out that the Technate does not take criticism lightly. Arriving in Washing D.C. and eager to shed his relationship to his troublesome father, Rex hits the party scene with his uncle, William.
Fabulous mixed drinks are prepared at the autobars and Rex falls in with a dame who takes him to a speakeasy where people talk about (gasp!) ideas! The nature of man! The reality of god and the flaws of the Technate.
The place is raided by the cops (technically now called the Security Functional Sequence) and Rex barely slips out the back, narrowly avoiding getting busted by Matt Edgeworth—the second in command of the Security Functional Sequence.
Here’s the thing about “The Cosmic Eye”, it’s pretty fun—it moves fast in that 1960s science-fiction way, and posits a future where self-driving cars are paid for by “universal credit cards” and the streets are empty of traffic, where giant screens are everywhere and computerized houses/cars/appliances recognize you and keep track of you.
How did all of this decadence and abundance come to be? The history is laid out crisply on about page 40:
The developments of the second industrial revolution in science, in industry, in practically all fields of endeavor, had solved the problem of the production of abundance. The government of the Technate solved those of distribution. The lowliest citizen commanded from the cradle to the grave not only the necessities of life but many of its luxuries. It was an affluent society beyond the dreams of the Utiopians.
The government itself was a self perpetuation hierarchy. Recommendation from below and appointment from above, was the formula.
But all is not as it seems! There is a rot at the heart of the Technate; that whole “recommendation from below and appointment from above” thing really doesn’t happen. Instead of a meritocracy, positions within the Technate are often inherited, as in the case of gadabout playboy Rex Morris.
The novel isn’t a dystopia, really, because… well, people are educated until 30, start their careers at 40, by 50 they have the option of retiring if they want. And I’m not talking about Blade-Runner-esque ‘retirement’ or a glorious orgasmic flameout ala Logan’s Run, I mean retirement where you cruise around the capitol in your one-seater flying car sipping fabulous mixed drinks and livin’ large. Want a little excitement? Find a speakeasy and talk shit about the Technate.
And on that subject, this isn’t some nightmarish 1984 scenario, either. With brutal beatings being dealt out by The Man. Mostly it seems that if you get busted you get fined, maybe some jail time, but mostly it affects your possibilities for promotion.
To quote uncle Morris: “Probably because a known evil that you can keep track of is better than an unknown one. The Security FS knows that a certain element of the population is going to discuss controversial subjects come what may. It’s better to keep track than to try to suppress it completely. When some individual goes too far, becomes downright subversive, he’s picked up and dealt with.”
So, no worries, you get a talkin’ to and a mark on your permanent record; unless you are a dangerous dissident. A dangerous dissident like [Spoiler Alert!] Rex f-ing Morris!
Rex Morris, who in reality is a lone-wolf terrorist hell-bent on bringing down The System! He has, Joker-like, spent his 20s hiding guns and bombs all over D.C.! He takes shots at the Security Functional System chief, and throws a bomb through the window of the high priest of temple!
His beef? All the luxury, all the decadence, all the hard-working Effectives foolishly believing that they can work hard and rise through the ranks of Engineer and finally up to Techno (or Techna) level are getting screwed by appointments of parasitic playboys like, well, Rex Morris. The stagnation of the race! The inability to confront the great challenges (which, his father having cured all known virus diseases seems to be the conquest of space… again with the conquest of space…).
On the one hand, he sort of has a point, on the other… retire at 40 if you want! And on the third hand, if Rex Morris maybe had put his ambition into something other than caching guns all over the capitol he might have made more of himself!
Like I said, the book has that classic written-in-a-rush-of-enthusiasm feel that marks so much of the golden age. Maybe written in too much of a hurry, to be honest. Mack Reynolds does a pretty noble job of not dropping massive info dumps, but then he has uncle Morris discuss that the whole meritocracy thing may not be working out, then someone else discusses the same thing, and then later, Engineer with a heart-of-gold Adele Briarton complains how she’ll never get high in the Technate because of jerk-offs like Rex inheriting all the plum positions.
So anyway, Rex is popping shots at the head of the Security forces, and throwing a few bombs and there are some chases and enemies become friends and friends become enemies and it turns out that the Super-High Echelon’s of the Technate are worried about the same thing that Rex is. In fact, they’ve been trying to figure out how to get some vim and vigor back into the society.
And here’s the thing, for all the bitching and hand-writing about the strivers and the drivers getting shut out of the system, do you want to know how the book ends? I’ll tell you. Matt Edgeworth, the fiery low-level Technician who worked his way up from Effective based on gumption guts and drive—the very example of the kind of man that Rex Morrison and the elites of the Technate claim that society needs and should be rewarded—Matt Edgeworth and his goons whack them all as they drive out of the White House. And I mean he kills them all. Like in a spray of bullets. Rex Morris included. The end.
Like I said, it seems to have been written in a hurry and seems a little rushed at the end, like maybe Reynolds had ridden this idea as far as it would go and/or he had a plane to catch. Still, a short fun book.