The Tunnel Under the World, a Frederik Pohl 1955 short story, begins with the words: “On the morning of June 15th, Guy Burckhardt woke up screaming out of a dream.”
Like all the best fiction, the story is both a great read and helps us interpret the world around us.
The Tunnel Under the World
I adore tales that make you think about life. That includes many sci-fi short stories, such as Vintage Season by Catherine L Moore and Henry Kuttner (links in bold italics are to other posts on this website), or The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster.
The Tunnel Under the World appeared in January 1955
The Tunnel under the World is as much a horror story as sci-fi. The protagonist, Guy Burckhardt, lives a hellish life, constantly bombarded by advertising in a too-perfect American town. One day, he looks under a boat he has been building in his basement and sees something impossible. He clambers under the boat to explore, and suddenly falls asleep.
The next day his real nightmare begins.
The Tunnel Under the World has a series of splendid twists (no spoilers here!). But we can see it as the origin story of a host of more or less grim allegorical tales about people living lives that are not what they seem – from The Stepford Wives (first published in 1972, filmed in 1975 and 2004) to movies such as Groundhog Day (1993), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Truman Show (1998) The Matrix (1999), Get Out (2017) or Westworld, filmed originally in 1973 and revived in 2016 as a TV series (tagline: ‘No choice you’ve ever made has been your own’).
The story may also have inspired the classic Simpsons episode, Brick Like Me, released in 2014. Brick Like Me, like The Tunnel Under the World, has fun exploring the horrors of untrammelled capitalism.
Enjoy “The Tunnel Under the World”…
You can read the The Tunnel under the World on-line. It is dark and may feel strangely familiar. You’ll never forget Feckle Freezers! And does the “Contro Chemical Plant” echo the nuclear plant in The Simpsons’ Springfield?
…and read my own dystopic novel, “Eternal Life”…
My first novel, Eternal Life, looks at how immortality would change the world – if you could buy years of other people’s lives, or sell your own. It’s not quite as pessimistic as The Tunnel Under the World. Indeed, it’s designed as a sci-fi comedy thriller and even includes a romance. I hope you enjoy it.
… but don’t believe it’s all true
Many conspiracy theorists claim (but don’t necessarily believe) that all-powerful secret forces control the lives of ordinary people. These alleged forces range from shape-shifting lizards and shadowy business types to those who think governments or business wield extraordinary powers through such fearsome institutions as The Welsh Secret Service. Some of these theories draw on science fiction.
Welsh Secret Service HQ, Snowdonia
I worked for the British government for 42 years. While full of (mostly) decent people who are doing their best, most democratic governments have no secret plan, or much power, or even the ability to run a consistent policy for more than ten minutes. Shadowy dark powers, unless you see concrete evidence of them, are usually imaginary. Do be afraid of conspiracy theorists, and misinformation, and the ability of the internet to cause anarchy and chaos. Do be afraid of the ability of authoritarian governments to perpetuate their rule by means of a surveillance state, in order to avoid accountability, or prison, for the people at the top. Relish great fiction, such as The Tunnel Under the World. But secretive, all-powerful forces and master plans? Forget it.
For more on conspiracy theories, see my post on The Welsh Secret Service – link above.