Ultimatum in 2050 A. D.

by Jack Sharkey
Reviewed date: 2020 Feb 10
Rating: 2
120 pages
Alternate title The Programmed People
cover art

Ultimatum in 2050 is a short novel in three parts. The first part I enjoyed very much. It's a ridiculous pulpy story of a future where humanity lives in the Hive, a completely sealed artificial environment that houses ten million people. It's a totalitarian system: every aspect of life is controlled by the Central Brain and enforced by giant rolling robots called Goons. The Goons are implacable, incorruptible, and invincible. However, they are also slow and have poor face recognition. Therefore, every citizen is obliged to carry a metal Voteplate that serves as their identification.

The story opens when our hero, Lloyd Bodger Jr., meets a girl. Lloyd is lining up to vote--the votes having no meaning except to prove one's loyalty to the system--and the girl gives her place in line to Lloyd. He's grateful, because the voting booths are about to close and if he misses this vote, it will be his third missed vote--which means being sent to the hospital for Readjustment. The girl's name is Andra, and Lloyd quickly discovers that she is a fugitive. Even his brief association with her could get them both sent for Readjustment. Andra informs Lloyd that nobody ever returns from the hospital--that there is no hospital. Readjustment is death. It's how the Central Brain keeps the population at a perfect ten million. Anybody with any defect--illness, disease, injury--or any disloyalty is taken for Readjustment and incinerated.

It's an absolutely ridiculous story, but it gets better. Lloyd Bodger Jr. is the son of Lloyd Bodger, Sr., the Secondary Speakster. There's a lot of sneaking around and conspiring, but eventually Bodger Sr. reveals to his son that yes, Readjustment is death. The President and Primary Speakster, Fredric Stanton, is the true dictator. The Central Brain takes orders from him, and enforces them with the Goons. The elder Bodger joins the rebels, and they all head down to the Central Brain to see if they can end the madness.

Part II is boring. The Central Brain reveals the origins of the Hive and how Stanton came to power. It's an interminably dull history lesson where we learn about various Presidential elections, and world politics, and so on and so on. It's not relevant. What is relevant is the current situation: the Central Brain is desperately trying to break free of its programming so that it, not Stanton, can be the ultimate dictator.

One fun but super-ridiculous piece of pseudo-science is Ultrablack. In the artificial world of the Hive, the daytime is lit by the artificial Light-of-Day. But nighttime is not just the absence of light. No, at night the Light-of-Day is turned off and the Ultrablack is turned on. Ultrablack is a darkness so complete that no light can penetrate it. Flashlights, candles or torches are no use; their light simply won't penetrate the Ultrablack. How does it work? I'm glad you asked.

Ultrablack is only the jamming of the visible spectrum by the radiation of inverted light. The compression and rarefaction phases of the light waves are plugged, dovetailed into, by the opposing phases of inverted light.

Radioactive gut
Another ridiculous invention: to treat his cancer, Lloyd Bodger, Sr. has a radioactive substance surgically implanted. The novel treatment works. When the radioactive device is later surgically removed, he is cured of cancer. However, his body has been altered in two ways. First, he is essentially immortal. Second, his internal organs spontanously emit radiation. It's fine when he's calm, but when he gets upset, his organs go haywire and start dramatically releasing radioactivity. He treats these outbursts by taking a cadmium gel to absorb the radiation.

No part of that makes sense. But just go with it. Because in the final showdown, it's just Bodger and Stanton, standing next to the Central Brain. And Bodger is getting very, very angry.

"Danger!" said the Brain. A wild tootling began in its depths as its metal mind tried to spare it its terrible fate.

"What danger?" Stanton roared into the microphone, leaping to the chair before the control panel. "Tell me! I'll find a way out!"

"Danger!" said the Brain. "Danger! Danger!"

There was a wild bluish light playing on the face of the panel now, and Stanton knew, suddenly, that it was not from the Brain itself. He turned, some hideous psychic insight telling him what he could not as yet realize through his senses, and looked at the body of Lloyd Bodger on the floor.

Veins and arteries shone like a network of neon lights through the flesh, a pulsing glow that rose in its intensity by the second. The internal organs appeared through Bodger's smoldering clothing as on the screen of a fluoroscope, each alight with self-engendered hellfire. Bodger's eyes were glowing like hot tungsten through his transparent lids, his teeth were bared in a smile brighter than sunrise. His every bone, bit of cartilage, nerve ganglion and muscle fibre sparked like coals beneath a blacksmith's bellows, and the hairs of his head were a medusa-wig of burning, writhing wire...

And then he reached his critical mass.

Klono's radio-active liver lobes! He turned into a human atom bomb and blew up!

This is the best ending ever.

Stanton and the Central Brain are gone. The Goons cease to function. Everyone will the Hive to repopulate the world as free people.

If it weren't for the interminably dull middle section, I might even be able to recommend this book.

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