“Tomorrow Town” by Kim Newman: A Digital Domains Review

Copyright © 2010 by Ellen Datlow. Cover design by Stephen H. Segal.

“Tomorrow Town” is a short story by award-winning author Kim Newman that was published on SCIFICTION on November 15, 2000.

Onto the review!

The Story: The “WORLD OF TOMORROW!!!” Is Not What We Expected

Richard Jeperson, an agent of the Diogenes Club, and Vanessa are sent from London to a small experimental community known as Tomorrow Town, where science fiction writers and editors are attempting to illustrate how their ideas about the future might be put into effect for the world of today.  But as Richard and Vanessa conduct their tour of the town, they discover that its innovations may be a mask for injustice and perhaps the leadership is not as benevolent or competent as it appears to be.

The Cast: A Brilliant Scientist And His Traveling Companion (Now Where Have I Heard That Before…?)

Richard Jeperson is an agent of the Diogenes Club, a fictional branch of the UK’s intelligence services that’s frequently seen in Kim Newman’s works.  He brings an eye for discrimination to Tomorrow Town, along with a very dry and sarcastic wit.  Accompanying him is Vanessa, who is less experienced but not lacking in her own expertise, and who on occasion provides as much wit as Richard.

There’s also the residents of Tomorrow Town, who are all trying to make the best of their new environment and integrate the futuristic jargon into their everyday language (substituting “desiyears” for months, “kronons” for hours, etc.).  They also try to reinvent themselves with new names like “Jor-G” (for George Gewell), Sue-2, and Jess-F.  However, their earnest attitudes aren’t much help against Richard and Vanessa’s skepticism, and even they can do little more than despair as how their social experiment begins to go south.

The Writing: Paying Homage Through Parody

I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but I couldn’t help feeling that this entire story read like a typical episode of Doctor Who: the Doctor and his companion arrive at a strange new world or in a new era of history, which is all very alien and wonderful until they uncover some danger about the whole environment that they have to defeat, explaining to the residents just what went wrong and how they could fix things before taking their leave.  Take out “the Doctor” and “companion,” stick in “Richard” and “Vanessa,” and you have this entire story in a nutshell.

I was also reminded a lot of The Prisoner, wherein another snarky gentlemen is brought to a smiling community of the future and constantly harps on the utter wrongness behind everything.  In particular, I’m reminded of the episode called “The General,” where a supercomputer is hailed as the great authority of the future, only to fall apart at an unsolvable question from Number Six.  Again, this might have been intentional, given that the author’s British.

Newman also tackles the cliché customs of the future that were predicted by so many science fiction writers in the twentieth century: modern clothes replaced by jumpsuits, modern food reduced to pills, robots to clean up your room, and all important matters handed by the most amazing computers ever built.  It’s this last idea that Newman really tears into, considering that the supercomputer of this story lacks true sentience and can’t do anything more than crunch some data.

He is decent enough, though, to include a small glossary at the end of his story, just as great sci-fi authors like Frank Herbert would.

Final Verdict: A Lot Of Fun (But Not Much As A Good Plate Of Fish N’ Chips)

As a mystery story, “Tomorrow Town” isn’t bad, but it’s best read as a good-natured poke at so many sci-fi tropes and conventions.  It’s got a decent cast and a nice message, one that all science fiction writers should take to heart when they start planning out their own utopian visions of the future.

Bibliography: Newman, Kim.  “Tomorrow Town.”  Digital Domains: A Decade of Science Fiction & Fantasy.  Edited by Ellen Datlow.  Prime Books, 2010.

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