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Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: "The Tunnel under the World" by Frederik Pohl from The Best of Frederik Pohl

The Best of Frederik Pohl
by Frederik Pohl

new ebook from Baen Books

The first stories, including "The Tunnel under the World", are available online.

The left image is the original cover and on the right is the one.  The right is cool enough, but the left one spurs my imagination a wee bit more.  Your mileage may vary.

It first appeared in H.L Gold's Galaxy, but later was collected by such luminaries as Brian Aldiss, Kingsley Amis, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Gérard Klein, and Tom Shippey--all of whom said it was one of the best.

I may heard it first on a recording of X Minus One.  Lamentably, this type of audio drama is no more.  Video killed the radio star.  Harlan Ellison often ranted about the superiority of radio--as had my father. The generation of the radio said that it was better for the imagination.  Truly, the mental special effects were cheaper yet better than could be simulated on screen.  As a member of the video generation, I have to admit, these were good.  You have to accept they are a product of a certain age, first, but a pleasure.  I'd go for a night jog and listen to them on my headphones,  You can find these old programs online ("Tunnel under the World" is #43).

On June 15th, Guy Burckhardt follows his usual routine.  But the world is a bit off.  They advertise unfamiliar products.  Guy notes another fellow, Swanson, behaving strangely toward but ignores him.  Despite an obnoxious repetitive ad for a freezer, he ends up buying one because a nice saleswoman takes him out and apologizes.  When he gets home, he learns his wife has bought one as well.   he goes into his basement and finds not only a boat but the walls and floor covering metal plating.  He falls asleep and wakes but the world says it's June 15th all over again.  When he sees Swanson again, they try to get to the bottom of this, literally and figuratively, to turn these people in.  They can't treat humans this way.

The story covers some of the territory Pohl and C M Kornbluth covered in The Space Merchants, but from a slightly different angle.  (Here I ruin the theme for you.)  Guy is clearly an everyman name.  Like Guy, we are bombarded with advertisements--against our will--and yet we buy the products even though we're annoyed.  Basically, we've become robot consumers through commercials.  The first line says it all:  "On the morning of June 15th, Guy Burckhardt woke up screaming out of a dream."  It's a dream that isn't a dream.  It's a nightmare.  The problem isn't just society but ourselves although society programs us, deletes and adds memories at whim and will.


  1. Brilliant! I have the book with this old cover design, probably bought in the late 70's. "Tunnel under the world" is probably the most intriguing but there are many other riveting short stories in here to be discovered.

  2. Thanks, John. Yes, Pohl was a fine writer.