Sick Tomorrows

When I was an adolescent I became a science fiction fan. I read everything the school and public library had, and I don't regret any of it... with one exception: The Other Side of Tomorrow: Original Science Fiction Stories About Young People of the Future, edited by Roger Elwood. That anthology warped my outlook on life.

I read this collection about twenty years ago, and haven't seen a copy since then. But it was vivid enough that I recall several stories in some detail:

  • Joseph Green's "Let My People Go" is the story of the last few genetic throwbacks in a future of perfect people. These normal children in a world of super-normals resort to their only weapon -- emotional manipulation -- to win their freedom.

  • In "The Speeders" by Arthur Tofte, a juvenile delinquent who wants nothing more than to race dragsters is sent to a place where he must do exactly that... and survival is no one's concern.

  • Gail Kimberly's "Peace, Love, and Food for the Hungry" is a story about colonists on a different planet. Everything goes well until an accident happens, whereupon an otherwise innocuous native lifeform begins to congregate at the accident scene. The colonists don't understand that the beings feed on fear. As more of the lifeforms appear in the area, fear grips the colonists. The story ends with the colonists huddled in the community's central building, deathly afraid, with the walls under ever-increasing strain from the sheer mass of the feeding lifeforms crowding outside.

  • The story that made the greatest impression was "A Bowl of Biskies Makes a Growing Boy" by Raymond F. Jones. Our young hero in the near future notices that all the foods that he eats have one ingredient in common. Curious, he tries to discover what that ingredient does. Not only do his investigations come to naught, a very suspicious accident occurs that could have been a murder attempt. When he tries eating only natural food, he experiences violent withdrawal symptoms. Finally, he is shipped off to a special school, where through a combination of drugs he is reduced to the mental level of an imbecile.

This is science fiction about young people? The examples I remember are just plain sick. Huddling in a building with your neighbors, alone on an alien planet, more than half out of your mind from fear? Forced to race to your death? Regressed to imbecility when you realize that a dangerous drug is ubiquitous? These are not stories of hope. They inspire fear, and paranoia.

Someday I'd like to meet the anthologist and ask him precisely what he was thinking when he chose these stories. Was his intent to scare children, to make them distrust society and each other? If it was, he fulfilled his goal. On one level, he succeeded admirably: the anthology was certainly unforgettable.


In April of 2003, I tracked the book down via interlibrary loan. It wasn't as uniformly bleak as I'd remembered, but individual stories were as nightmarishly grim as I recalled.

Last updated 6 April 2003
All contents ©2000-2002 Mark L. Irons