Dystopia and awakening in The Therapeutic State: Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day, the 1992 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner

To celebrate the Prometheus Awards’ four-decade history and make clear why each winner deserves recognition as a pro-freedom work, the Libertarian Futurist Society is publishing an Appreciation series of all past award-winners. Here’s an appreciation for Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day, the 1992 Prometheus Hall of Fame winner:

By Michael Grossberg
Bestselling novelist Ira Levin may be best remembered for genre novels and plays adapted into quite a few popular movies.

Among them: Rosemary’s Baby (modern horror), The Stepford Wives (satirical feminist horror-fantasy), The Boys from Brazil (conspiratorial political-spi medical-genetics thriller), A Kiss Before Dying (romantic crime drama), and Deathtrap (mystery-comedy), his long-running Broadway play.

Yet, one of Levin’s least-known novels, This Perfect Day, may rank among his best. (It’s also one of the few Levin novels left that hasn’t yet been adapted into a Hollywood movie. Hint, hint….)

Widely acclaimed when published in 1970 as one of the best dystopian novels ever written – and comparable in imaginative vision to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange,the latter also a Prometheus Hall of Fame inductee – This Perfect Day offers a far more plausible and gripping dystopian vision than most better-known works within that now-overdone genre.

In the futuristic cautionary tale, the world has become an authoritarian embodiment of what libertarian psychiatrist Thomas Szasz feared would become The Therapeutic State – a more plausible Brave New World in which workers and citizens are forcefully medicated “for their own good.”

Against such a grim backdrop, Levin offers the inspiring libertarian story of the coming of age of Chip, a young man who begins to resist tyranny and question why he can’t make choices for himself.
Ultimately recruited by a small group of nonconformists, Chip begins to research the truth about his world and hatches a plan of liberation.

At first, to Chip and his fellow citizens, it seems like they are living comfortably in an ideal global society, in a world free of crime, violence, war or hunger – where the words “fight” and “hate” have become swear words. Yet, appearances are deceptive.

Set centuries from now, where all ethnic groups have been eugenically merged into one race called “The Family” speaking one language, the story quickly reveals the dark underbelly of a society where people are ruled by a central AI computer called UniComp, programmed to keep every person in check via continual drugging with regular injections to keep them pacified and cooperative.

Although the iron fist of dictatorship has been clothed within a smooth velvet drug and reinforced through genetic engineering, individuals are dictated to just like in any real-life historical dictatorship under Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and countless others.

The sheeplike and drugged citizens of this soft tyranny are told whom to marry, when to produce, when to eat and where to live. And with their lives uniformly ended at 62, they’re also told when to die.

So with the stakes becoming a matter of life and death, Chip goes through a journey of awakening, struggle and self-realization. As he becomes more human, Levin’s multifaceted characterization makes him one of his most memorable and admirable characters. And Chip’s struggle becomes our struggle for humanity and liberty.

Note: Ira Levin (1929-2007) was a best-selling novelist, playwright and songwriter.

Ira Levin (Creative Commons license)

Among his bestselling novels: The Boys from BrazilRosemary’s Baby, Son of Rosemary, The Stepford WivesThis Perfect DaySliver, and A Kiss Before Dying (for which he won the Edgar Award). Among his Broadway plays: No Time for Sergeants and his Edgar-Award-winning Deathtrap, the longest-running comedy-thriller in Broadway history.

* Coming up soon on the Prometheus Blog: An Appreciation of Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, the 1993 inductee into the Prometheus Hall of Fame for Best Classic Fiction.

* Other Prometheus winners:  For a full list of winners – for the annual Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction (Hall of Fame) categories and occasional Special Awards – visit the recently updated and enhanced Prometheus Awards page  on the LFS website. (This page contains convenient direct clickable links to each Appreciation for Best Novel and Best Classic Fiction, as they are published on the Prometheus blog.)

* Read the introductory essay about the LFS’ 40th anniversary retrospective series of Appreciations of past Prometheus Awards winners, with an overview of the awards’ four-decade history that launched the series in 2019 with review-essays about more than 40 Best Novel winners and that continues most weeks in 2020 with appreciations of the more than 40 Best Classic Fiction winners in the Prometheus Hall of Fame. If you’ve ever wondered why some fiction is recognized with a Prometheus, this series will help you better understand what LFS members see as the libertarian and anti-authoritarian themes in each winner.

* Read “The Libertarian History of Science Fiction,”an essay in the June 2020 issue of the international magazine Quillettethat favorably highlights the Prometheus Awards, the Libertarian Futurist Society and the significant element of libertarian sf/fantasy in the modern genre.

* Join us! To help sustain the Prometheus Awards, join the Libertarian Futurist Society (LFS), a non-profit all-volunteer association of freedom-loving sf/fantasy fans, and help nominate, judge and vote for the annual Prometheus Award winners. Libertarian futurists believe upholding and advancing culture is as vital as politics in spreading positive visions of the future, achieving a flourishing society based on cooperation instead of coercion and a better, free-er world (perhaps eventually, worlds) for all.

Published by

Mike Grossberg

Michael Grossberg, who founded the LFS in 1982 to help sustain the Prometheus Awards, has been a writer, arts critic, speaker and award-winning journalist for five decades. Most recently, Michael won the 2019 Ohio SPJ awards for Best Critic in Ohio (for theater reviews) and Best Arts Reporting (which he’s won seven times). He's written for Reason and Libertarian Review magazines, was a regional columnist for years for Backstage weekly, helped lead the American Theatre Critics Association for two decades and has contributed to six books, including critical essays for the annual Best Plays Theatre Yearbook and an afterword/essay for the first paperback edition of J. Neil Schulman's novel The Rainbow Cadenza. Among the books he recommends to inform a libertarian-futurist perspective: Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist, David Boaz's The Libertarian Mind and Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress.

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