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July 2008
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The Big Ball of Wax: A Story of Tomorrow's Happy World, by Shepherd Mead (1954)

IN THE twenty-first century, Lanny Martin dictates a memory-tape report of that awful week back in 1993 when the XP machine nearly destroyed civilization. The XP machine tape-records any human activity (yes, including that one), then plays it back so that anyone else can relive the same experience. And you can turn up the volume.

Martin works for ConChem, the glutcorp that owns everything…except the XP machine and its tapes. But nobody buys things anymore, except the bare nutrients required for survival. XP tapes of gourmet meals and other sensual activities are now outselling the actual experiences. Eventually, Martin saves ConChem's profit line…by acquiring XP, then using its technology to offer free samples of whatever people want. To get the full experience, they'll have to pay.

Shepherd Mead's future year 1993 is semi-plausible. Remember those picture-phones which every 1960s oracle predicted would arrive soon? Mead's future world has them, with one (very convincing) addition explaining why they never caught on in our own timeline. Mead's other predictions are less impressive. Lanny Martin drives a 1992 Buick to Idyllwild (sic) Airport, and he encounters "a colored fellow."

Shepherd Mead (1914-1994) joined an ad agency as the mailroom boy, and left two decades later as their vice president; this experience inspired his best-seller How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying. He also wrote the 1965 SF novel The Carefully Considered Rape of the World.

—F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

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