The Age of the Pussyfoot
Cover of first hardcover edition
(Trident Press, 1969)
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover & Paperback)|
The Age of the Pussyfoot is a science fiction novel by Frederik Pohl, first published as a novel in 1969. It was originally published as a serial in Galaxy Science Fiction in three parts, starting in October 1966.
The novel was inspired by Pohl's own experiences in a local volunteer fire department and by the early computer time sharing systems, along with advances in medicine, such as transplants, extrapolated to the point where anyone with enough money can command huge resources and essentially live forever. There are some unusual social consequences of these advances, however.
Charles Dalgleish Forrester is revived from cryopreservation in the year 2527, having been killed in a fire 500 years earlier. Thanks to his insurance, after the expenses of his revival are paid he has a quarter of a million dollars, a fortune in his eyes. He can afford the luxuries of 26th century life, such as a Joymaker, a scepter-like portable computer terminal with some extra features like a drug dispenser.
After a heavy night partying, with some distant memory of an argument with somebody, he wakes in his new apartment, and over a 20th-century breakfast, checks in with his Joymaker. The Joymaker communicates by voice, and addresses him always as "Man Forrester". He is informed that he has a message from a woman whose name he doesn't recognize, and that someone called Heinzlichen Jura de Syrtis Major has taken out a hunting license on him. Baffled, he eventually encounters the woman from the party who he believes is called Tip. She maintains she is Adne Bensen, the woman whose messages he has been ignoring. Apparently she got on so well with Forrester that she is ready to begin a relationship. She takes him back to her apartment, where he finds she has two children, around 8 years old, who seem somewhat precocious for their years. With names like "Tunt" and "Mim" flying around, he mistakenly assumes those are the children's names, baffling them when he uses them that way.
Later Forrester encounters Heinzlichen with a few friends, who without much ado beat him up so badly he goes to the hospital. It transpires that Heinzlichen's hunting license allows him to kill Forrester providing he pays for the revival, and the whole vendetta is over some insult at the party, which Forrester can barely remember. It's possible Forrester trod on Heinzlichen's foot. Since Heinzlichen is from the human colonies on Mars and is adapted to low gravity, this is a major faux pas.
Mistake follows on mistake, compounding confusion. Forrester comes to believe that Adne is attempting to entrap him in fatherhood, presumably for his money, when she leaves a message saying that "we have to choose a name". He is equally disdainful of a friend who keeps asking him to join his Club, expecting that also to be just a ruse to get at his money.
Eventually Adne sets him straight. Firstly, he'll be broke soon because, unbeknownst to him, all the 20th century foods he likes are very expensive, as are all the other Joymaker functions he enjoys. He needs to get a high-paying job. Secondly, the "name" she was asking about was a "reciprocal name," one used only between two close friends or intimates. Each uses it only to address the other, as "Tunt" was the children's name for each other, and "Mim" was the name used between Adne and the children. Tip was the name she and another close friend used, so Forrester could not use it. The friend wanting Forrester to join his Club was in fact offering him a paying position in the organization, though Forrester is not sure he likes what the Club stands for.
However, Forrester's woes are not over. He first takes a high-paying job for what turns out to be an alien life form. The alien is known to all as a Sirian, but only because that's the star system in which he was captured (Sirius). Earth is in a state of preparation for a Sirian attack it is expecting. When the alien ship was first encountered, the Earth ship shot first and asked questions later. The only thing stopping an attack, it is believed, is that the Sirian's home world population has no idea where Earth is. The captured Sirians live on Earth in a state of virtual house arrest, with their movements restricted and monitored. Forrester's job is to be the Sirian's guide to Earth culture and history, and is paid handsomely for it. Unfortunately Adne and the others shun him for working for the alien.
The Sirian asks many questions about seemingly arbitrary topics of human history. When Forrester fails to respond to one of the Sirian's requests in time, he is promptly fired by the Sirian.
He then takes a high-paying job which is an apparent sinecure, watching over some machinery, until he learns that all the previous holders of the post are in cryopreservation after being blasted with radiation. Against the warnings of the Joymaker, he quits in the middle of a shift. In this time, this is a huge error, and all his funds are taken in fines. He is reduced to nothing, and forced to live with all the other bums on Skid Row.
The existence is actually quite comfortable. Nobody can afford a Joymaker, but rich people pass through doling out money to 26th century panhandlers, and there are cash-only eating places with coin-operated Joymakers at the tables. However, there are also people looking for thrills on the cheap, wanting to kill someone without having to pay for the revival. After a near miss, he runs into the Sirian again, who drugs and hypnotizes him. Under the delusion that he is helping Adne take a trip, Forrester places the Sirian in control of a spacecraft.
The ship heads into space and escapes, but not before the whole world learns that the alien escaped, though not Forrester's role in the affair. The entire human population goes into a panic. Most commit suicide in order to hide in the cryopreservation banks. Heinzlichen comes after Forrester one more time, and Forrester kills him. This was simply Heinzlichen's way of getting into the freezer. Eventually Forrester is almost alone.
At this point the Club he had been asked to join goes into action. They are a 26th-century version of Luddites and are bent on dismantling the world's technological base by subverting central computing systems, believing this will improve human welfare. Ominously, they are "helped" by the Sirians in doing so. In the end, medical technicians and the Luddites are the only people left awake. Forrester learns about the conspiracy of the Luddites. Forrester cannot reach the technicians because all the computer terminals have been programmed against him. His only hope is to kill himself. He walks up to one of the automated medics, and cuts his throat.
Fortunately the medic, reacting to its programming to save lives over that set up by the Luddites, gets him to a medical facility in time, and he is able to abort the revolution. Eventually people start being revived, and he is reunited with Adne.
- Charles Dalgliesh Forrester is a man born in the 20th century, revived 500 years later. He initially believes he is rich because he has a quarter of a million dollars in his investment, a considerable amount at the time of writing. He eventually discovers that although that amount would have supported him comfortably in a 20th-century lifestyle, his use of the joymaker and all that it can bring him means that he is rapidly running out of money.
- Adne Bensen is a liberated 26th century woman. She styles herself as "natural flow", meaning that she does not use artificial hormones and is only receptive to men at certain times. She is quite open about this, much to Forrester's chagrin. Her profession is that of "Reacter". This means that she is employed as a consultant of sorts, giving her response to consumer products, and is rated by the number of potential customers she represents, and the chance that a favorable reaction from her will mean that the product is going to sell that many copies. She has two children, who are equally frank about her emotional and physical needs.
- Heinzlichen Jura de Syrtis Major is a Martian colonist visiting Earth. He speaks English with a strong accent that Forrester identifies as German, though Heinzlichen insists that all Martians speak that way because the thinner atmosphere on Mars eliminates some of the higher audio frequencies. He also has no idea what "German" signifies. He takes out a "hunting license" on Forrester because of a perceived insult that is never explained, and that even Heinzlichen cannot fully remember. The license is very expensive, requiring Heinzlichen to post bonds and undertake not to damage Forrester's brain, as well as paying all medical costs. In the later sections of the novel, Forrester encounters another Martian, Kevin O'Rourke na Solis Lacis, who also sounds "German" to Forrester despite his Irish name, and who also has no idea what is meant by "German", or "Irish".
- The Age of the Pussyfoot title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- The Age of the Pussyfoot publication history at the Internet Book List
- Frederik Pohl Got Computers Right - The Joymaker