“Plenitude,” Will Worthington (Will Mohler), 1959 — A family ekes out a hard life on the mountainside. Opens with a young boy, Mike, asking his father “why, why,” as the father works on his garden. The child’s curiosity is deceptively ordinary, but it is soon revealed that the family is living in a post-apocalyptic future consisting of two types of survivors: those who fled to the mountains for the hard life, and those who enclosed themselves in virtual reality “grapes” in the Perpetual Parmedidean Palaces of what remains of the City. Those inside the “purple grapes” live a semi-conscious existence during which they’re suckled by virtual reality stimulants and protected by fierce machines; suspended in fluid, they receive direct cerebral stimulation, possibly as a series of orgasms. He and his family live a life of hard work and “real” stimuli. The man appreciates his labor, the immediacy of his own experience. He appreciates his wife, Sue, in a different way now, her sweat, her usefulness, her labor–now she is the first and last Woman.
As the father tells his rebellious older son, Chris, the city-dwellers live in realities built on stimulation without real stimulus, in realities “worse than television.” Yet, the older son is curious and insists that they visit the decaying cities, riddled with artifacts from the past, and to return to their Old House (now somewhat mythic). He wants to “fix up” the tech, probe its utility, to have and do more. While there, the son is attacked by a machine (controlled by a father defending his family, defenseless inside the grapes), and the father rips open the frightened man’s grape, exposing bleached skin and tubes as the man spills out of the fluid. The older son is changed by the event, and the father worries at his sullen reaction, particularly when the son disappears into the woods. The father is relieved when the son returns, having killed a deer. Helping the son with the carcass is the family’s distant neighbor, a Buddhist who was also very upset by the killing of the man in the city; with the neighbor is one of his female kin. At the conclusion, the couple offers the neighbor a drink as a peace offering, to repair the fragile connection with their precious neighbors and perhaps secure a wife for their son.
Comments: Read in Hot and Cold Running Cities and Best of the Best. Themes of consumerism, virtual reality, free will, gender, family/children, violence. The existence of those inside the fluid of the “grapes” might remind some of the vr-induced slumber of the humans in the film The Matrix. Also a memorable passage concerning women’s domestic labor, now made more important (and more alluring) by the loss of technology and convenience. (Compare perhaps with “The Heat Death of the Universe”—a woman made obsolete by technological convenience). A few sections that could be read as sexist, if from a reliable narrator.
Author: ISFDB entry