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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Analysis of "The Year of the Jackpot" by Robert A. Heinlein

This first appeared in Galaxy, reprinted about a dozen times by several major editors of the 50s-70s:  Frederik Pohl, H. L. Gold, Donald A. Wollheim, Damon Knight, Terry Carr, Robert Silverberg, Dick Allen, Lori Allen, James Frenkel.  It is available in a double-collection ebook (pictured below) or as a single (pictured to the right).  [Note: the cover illustration has nothing to do with the story.]

In the ebook of the same name, Paul Di Filippo astutely correlates this story to Heinlein's Future History timeline's "The Crazy Years" although the technological progress is minimal, the societal social fabric rips apart at the seams.  Heinlein's remarks on the period are:
"Considerable technical advance during this period, accompanied by a gradual deterioration of mores, orientation and social institutions, terminating in mass psychoses in the sixth decade and the Interregnum.
"The Interregnum was followed by a period of reconstruction."
Interestingly, although Heinlein is maligned for how he handles social mores (comparing him to contemporary mores rather than the common mores of his day), he constantly breaks the rules even when he seems to be flaunting a more conservative perspective.  Nailing Heinlein's social perspective is problematic as, at his characters' most staunch perspective, it often appears under the guise of banter.  If one were to summarize his socio-political perspective, it might be "Let it go" or "Take it easy,"* a phrase from the tale itself,  to either political persuasion.  Let people be whoever they want to be.

Potiphar Breen is a statistician who has been anticipating human cycles of insanity, "lemming"-like suicidal behavior among the human species.  Social mores are being shed, just as literally as Meade, a young woman, sheds her clothes in public but has no understanding of why she's doing it.  Potiphar happens to have a raincoat on him to put around her just as the cop had intended to arrest her.  The tale suggests, but does not say, that Potiphar had statistically anticipated someone stripping there.  To Potiphar, she's an interesting statistic.  He wants to know why she does, but she has no inkling.  

He anticipated a complete breakdown of humanity before it recollects its insanity.  When both lose their jobs and the insanity reaches a peak--just as strange earthquakes, weather, and nuclear weapons strike--they high-tail it out of Los Angeles.  None to soon. 

They make it to a rural area to wait out humanity's inhumanity.  Just as it looks better for humanity.  Disaster from the sun strikes.  I didn't make much of the ending--not taking the sun going nova seriously--thinking that sun sent a barrage of high energy particles to Earth.  As it was sunset, with more atmosphere to travel through, I figured they should have been safe.  Maybe they should have ducked into the shadow of a hill.  But no, the idea of which stars go nova had apparently not been codified, according to Wikipedia.

The title plays an ironic role.  "Jackpot" connoting good luck although the protagonists make the best of their short-term situation.

* From "Skylift" comes this declaration:  "The ideal pilot is relaxed and unworried. Sanguine in temperament, he never borrows trouble."

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