Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Day The Icicle Works Closed

File under: "Escapist literature my ass" (and crossposted from my other digs)

Written almost exactly 50 years ago, “The Day The Icicle Works Closed” is the story of the complete collapse of the economy of Altair Nine: a world sustained almost entirely by the production and export of rare and valuable pharmaceuticals.

“The Icicle Works was the most profitable corporation in the Galaxy,” our hero explains during the climactic courtroom scene.


[SPOILER ALERT (although honestly, if you haven't managed to track this obscure book down and read it in the last half century, odds are fuck-all that you're going to do it now...)]

…the people of Altair Nine start hearing through their only link to the outside world – the media, which is controlled by the Tourism Bureau – that nobody wants what they make anymore. That their markets had vanished and the good years were over.

From my own dog-eared copy:
“Worse, the jobs vanished. Pulcher [our hero] had been on the corporation’s legal staff, with an office of his own and a faint hint of a vice-presidency someday. He was out. The stenos in the pool, all but two or three of the five hundred who one had got out the correspondence and the bills, they were out. The shipping clerks in the warehouse were out, the pumphands at the settling tanks were out, the freezer attendants were out. Everyone was out. The plant was closed.”
And yet somehow, the committeemen still had money. The politicians. The heads of the chamber of commerce. People whose fortunes one would have thought were most directly tied to the implosion of the industry and the sudden worthlessness of their stocks were the very ones who always seemed to have a fat wad of cash on hand.

So with the economy in the tank, our hero goes from corporate lawyer to public defender, picking up the case of a gang of young people who, not being pretty, strong and agile enough to make ends meet turn tricks, turn to kidnapping.

And how did they do it?
“…what it all adds up to, ladies and gentlemen, is that Charley Dickon, and a handful of his friends in high places – most of them right here in this room – have cut off communication between Altair Nine and the rest of the galaxy.”
It is, in other words, the story of a plot hatched between local plutocrats and media moguls to deliberately crash a thriving middle class manufacturing economy and induce a Depression in order to turn a prosperous world into a feudal state divided between the super-rich and horde of desperate and permanently poor peons; people so broke in an economy so bad that they must now “rent” their bodies out to make a living, or turn and criminals.

So without being overly paranoid, I find it impossible to ruminate on this forgotten story from the golden days of pulp without also noting that, since the early days of Ronald Reagan, there has been abroad in the America a concerted and sustained effort to hard-sell the public the message that “Manufacturing is dead”.

From TPM Cafe “Missing Manufacturing Boom”:
As I have tried to point out in America Since Reagan, the 38 year trajectory of Republican political economics has hollowed out our manufacturing prowess, reduced our competitiveness, put us deeply in debt to the Chinese and the Russians and eviscerated parts of the Bill of Rights.
We have all been told for 40 years that manufacturing jobs are all going, going, gone… That whatever crappy work is still left here is dirty and dangerous. That a Real Murrican should consider it an insult to suggest their son or daughter might have a bright future working in a f-a-c-t-o-r-y.

Except that message is mostly bullshit.

The ubiquitous propaganda – which I have heard everywhere from Hate Radio to NPR – was accompanied by suicidal trade, industrial and tax policies – pursued by both Republicans and DINO Democrats.

Policies that actually reward companies for shipping jobs overseas (Senator Byron Dorgan from the “Congressional Record” (PDF):

I have mentioned previously Huffy bicycles. They have gone to China. Do you know that little red wagon, the Radio Flyer? This one has gone to China.

The perversity of all of this is, whether it is Fig Newtons, Levis, Radio Flyers, Huffy bicycles, or Fruit of the Loom underwear, they were all rewarded for moving their jobs overseas because our Tax Code has embedded in it a special little deal: Move your jobs overseas and we will give you a special deal.
And dole out lavish tax breaks to people for buying gas-swilling SUVs:
“A qualifying buyer can now deduct $106,000 of the suggested $110,000 price of a Hummer H1 SUV ($100,000 direct deduction plus $5,000, or 50 percent of the $10,000 balance, and $1,000, which is the first year of depreciation for the $5,000 balance). That would translate into a $37,100 savings on the purchase price if the taxpayer were in the 35 percent income-tax bracket.(2) Not all states have adopted the new caps, but those that have are still losing valuable tax dollars through the loophole.”
Finally, under this relentless media/policy/talking-head “everyone knows” assault, all over the country, trade schools began to shut down.

Shop classes started to evaporate.

The old guy who made faucets stopped being invited to “Career Day” at the high school.

Until, at last, having been methodically stripped of our means to sustain a middle-class economy by people who have hated and feared the middle class since FDR stopped them from wiping it out once and for all 80 years ago, we find ourselves staring down the barrel of another Depression.

So where does it all end?

Well, it either ends when we take our beloved country back from the degenerates and liars in industry, politics and media who have brought us to the edge of the abyss.

Or it ends like this: (sorry, video died long ago...)


Anonymous said...

Aww, come on now fiction is fiction and facts is facts :)

Besides, if the media is untrustworthy, why should we consider this story one way or the other?

Anonymous said...

That was truly an amazing piece of reporting. Very moving.

Also, ignore Juror #7 above me.

Anonymous said...

Not sure who was the prostitute in that story, after all wasn't it the network that escorted and filmed the young lady to the brothel, in a limousine no less?

lostnacfgop said...

Yeah, but this story'll run over and over again on The O'really Factor from now until the annual war on Christmas breaks out.

JayZee said...

The worse the economy is the better looking the hookers become...ahhh
except for these people.

Garth said...

I more interested in the "icicle works" part of this post: once again crushing the misconception that sci-fi is frivilous pulp written for and by boys of teenage mentality.
At one stage in the nineties I found myself unable to read any literature other than sci-fi since, at that time, it was the only media that had anything to say about the world and the state that it was/is in.

Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Well, at least nobody can say "No One Could Have Ever Imagined..."

O do not know that it is the ONLY reason, but it seems clear to me that the reason the Pukes are stone-walling the big-3 bailout is that they see it as an opportunity to kill of the UAW, the last major industrial union in the country.

Would the oligarchs put 3 MILLION people out of work to accomplish this?

You figger it out...

The Minstrel Boy said...

call for citizen robespierre,
paging citizen robespierre. . .

Mister Roboto said...

Somehow, I am not surprised to hear what you have related to us about the tax code and how it encourages job-outsourcing. If we had a government that cared even a little teeny-tiny bit about the welfare of the people, not only would the tax codes severely punishing outsourcing, all "corporate welfare" from the government would get cut off to job-outsourcing corporations.

It never, ever ceases to amaze me what an utterly, hopelessly, abysmally narcissistic society we've managed to become.

darkblack said...

As others have referenced, I too have always found the prescience of speculative fiction with regards to current events fascinating...Authors, liberated from mundane plot points and slavish adherence to realism were free to gather universal truisms, observed behaviors and cyclical trends in humanity as the essential glue that bound the stories together and gave the outlandish scenarios continuity and relevance, rather than the conventional stratagem of invented personalities bolted into fictive verisimilitude and allowed to run riot.

And so, here we are now living on the event horizon of a calculatedly contrived black hole, designed to keep the serfs in their place perpetually while the new aristocracy clings to their unearned splendor...How will this novella end, I wonder?

Anonymous said...

Obama's problems with Clinton have already begun.

Some OT, by OH-SO-RELEVANT, is this piece from AW.Com, in the UK Independent, in which Leonard Doyle talks about Clinton's demands for "accepting" the State Department.

That we have to go OUT of the country to find out this, about Obama's dealings with Clinton, is utterly reminiscent of the situation with so much of the reality and truth about the bush administration's mayhem opera.

She's insisting that Obama spay-and-neuter the loyal staffers who, during the campaign, were outspoken about her lack of real foreign-policy expertise.

She, and she alone, will pick the State Department personnel.

None of her contacts or decision making will be filtered or influenced by his foreign policy advisers.

What is so depressing about Obama's joining the Clinton rehab posse, is that he has so badly overestimated her power and influence. She is a VERY junior Senator, with no prospects for chairing an influential committee, for a long time. Her campaign against him was a virtual trainwreck, as she tossed away her excellent chances when she took a triangulating shit on her natural constituency, the progressive wing of the party, only to find out that we shit back. :o)

It's still not too late for him to leave her in the Senate. Her followers who are so blithely ignoring the horrible decision to give the inside track to State to Joe Lieberman's AIPAC-sister, will be sore pissed if Obama now hangs her out to dry, but that is EXACTLY what she, and they, deserve.
And, as far as them taking revenge goes; what's she going to do? Publicly claim that John McCain would have made a better commander-in-chief?

Indulge in republican-style saber-rattling?

Co-sponsor an amendment to make flag-burning a federal crime?

They got nuthin', and it's about time that Obama stops "reaching out" to the Clintons, and reminds them of it.

Personally, I am sick unto nausea of Clinton-drama, but if he follows up on nominating her, this kind of arrogant shit will be only the beginning. Hillary will be more in the news than the president. In her marrow, she believes that he has something that belongs to her.

That he is proposing to reward this Senator who supported the misery in Iraq until she saw that it was ruining her politically, is a travesty of the word "change".

For a lot of good progressives, who worked hard and gave money to his campaign, the honeymoon is dangerously close to being over.

And I promise everyone reading this; with the Clinton's, there never was one.

Anonymous said...

Sorry the link didn't highlight, but the article is up on today's AW.Com. They're in a fundraiser week. Just click on the bottom of the page and when their headlines come up, scroll down to:

"Hillary Demands Purge of Foreign Policy Critics".

If you think, as I do, that she has no business being within a mile of Obama's foreign policy, take your blood-pressure meds first; it aint pretty. :o(

Mister Roboto said...

Here's your hyperlink, Tanbark.

So don't say I never gave you anything except nightmares. ;-)

Anonymous said...

What you talkin' about L&L? I've always enjoyed reading you. :o)


Anonymous said...

If I'm not mistaken, "The Day the Icicle Works Closed" can be ordered in this anthology:


WereBear said...

Frederik Pohl was a genius.

Track down The Space Merchants and prepare to be amazed.

driftglass said...

Funny you should say; I've got about a dozen long quotes from "The Space Merchants" ready to assemble into...something.

The general sense of our time that Pohl, Heinlein, etc. had 40-50 years ago is sometimes chilling.

Anonymous said...

The Ringworld is unstable. :o)

Anonymous said...

Man, I have not heard of “The Day The Icicle Works Closed” in easily 20 - 30 years.

Man, Pohl (and his frequent early collaborator Cyril Kornbluth) sure could write in the late 50's.(Reminds me, I really do need to pull out that Kornbluth "Best of" collection out of my honest-I'm-going-to-read-these-soon pile and crack it open).

By the way, I only clued in to your SF savvy a few months back when I picked up your namesake novel by Mr. Samuel R. Delaney (it's further down in that HIGTRTS pile).

So, apologies for going off topic, but I am going to chance asking this question. If you or any of your readers would help me, I would be very appreciative.

I am still frustrated in not being able to track down a particular science fiction short story collection. Each of the stories dealt with the humorous travails of this one mad scientist who kept on getting things almost right. For example, in one story, he breeds human-sized rabbits to fill out the military's requirement for cannon-fodder. The only problem, all the rabbits are female. (This collection was written probably in the 1950s or 1960s, well before women served in the regular forces.) All the other stories in the collection have that same humorous twist ending.

For the life of me, I have NEVER come close to finding out the title or author.

Any pointers, anyone?

Professional Left Podcast #602

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