“The Waveries,” Fredric Brown, 1945 — George Bailey, a radio ad writer, listens to the fulsome ads of his rival while drinking and playing gin rummy with Maisie, a friend. A tapping similar to Morse code interrupts one of the ads. Suspecting this to be a sign of something big, he rushes to the studio, where he debates the situation with colleagues.
They run through the possibilities. If space is warped, the first Morse code signals could be coming back after only 56 years. If so, next would be Marconi’s transmission, then the first phonograph, playing Handel’s Largo. They soon switch theories: It may be an attempt at communication from somewhere in the constellation Leo. But the signals are indiscriminate, the entire planet is flooded with everything from the voice of Will Rogers to soap opera to snatches of music to flashes of “the Pearl Harbour excitement.”
Mass hysteria ensues, Bible sales skyrocket, people stockpile guns. Newspapers run the headline that “scientists say Earth invaded” and people clamor for information on the “vaders.” A scientist speculates that the earth is now surrounded by alien lifeforms that can inhabit wave transmissions, which they’ve ridden back to earth.
True or not, the waves have the effect of interfering with electricity. Modern society suddenly finds itself returning to candles, the printing press, and steam locomotives. An emergency Economic and Transportation bureau is established, horses are confiscated by the government, cattle are used for plowing. Cinema, radio, and television are a thing of the past. Massive unemployment ensues, necessitating a Factory Readjustment Bureau. After some adaptation, the population decreases and suddenly there is plenty of room for people. Other benefits gradually emerge: the economy stabilizes, people are healthier from riding bikes, playing more games, learning to play musical instruments. Bailey, now freed from the “awful guff” that used to come from the radio, is now working on a novel, and silence is a pleasure.
Comments: Read in Connoisseur’s Science Fiction.
Author: Wikipedia: “Fredric Brown (October 29, 1906 – March 11, 1972) was an American science fiction and mystery writer. He was born in Cincinnati.”