EAC234 Assignment 1 - It's A Good Life - Chris Baynton
It’s A Good Life is a short story by Jerome Bixby about a young boy with special powers. This boy, Anthony is terrorizing the residents of his small town by reading their thoughts. This causes everyone to maintain a façade of happiness and cheerful thoughts, when they are actually living in constant fear.
Written in 1953, it was first published in the book Star Science Fiction Stories No.2. This story also appears in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame; it is a collection of the greatest science fiction stories of all time as voted by the Members of the Science Fiction Writers of America.
This story is about Anthony Fremont, a three-year-old boy with unusual powers; he has the ability to transform things with his mind. He lives in the town of Peaksville, Ohio with his mother, father, and aunt. Surrounding their little town is a grey abyss of “nothingness”. There is no electricity to speak of and the residents must grow their own food and make their own things. Anthony controls the weather with his thoughts and it changes depending on his mood.
If Anthony “hears” a thought he doesn’t like he transforms the people into horrible monstrosities. The towns-people must cater to the child’s wishes for positive thinking. If they don’t maintain optimistic thoughts, Anthony will know and they run the risk of being transformed or even killed. When Anthony tries to help people, he usually ends up making things worse for them, much worse. In order to maintain this kind of thinking, the population must mumble constantly and keep their thought incoherent and random. Nobody is safe from Anthony, even his own family.
- Population: 46
- Surrounded by a “vast, endless, gray nothingness… floating like a soul”
- No one knows whether or not Anthony had taken it someplace else, or had destroyed the world around them, leaving only the village
- Evidence in the story (the word sun is in quotations) suggests that they are not on Earth at all, but floating in space or some void
- The main character of the story
- He is three years old, but acts much older than he is
- Depicted as casting an “odd shadow” and has a “purple gaze”
- Has near-omnipotent powers which allow him to manipulate objects, people and animals around him through telekinesis
- Anthony’s Aunt
- She is a thin, tall woman with vacancy in her eyes
- Anthony, at one time, obeyed her more than anyone else
- A year ago, Anthony had changed her because she had gotten mad about him turning the cat into a cat-rug
- Anthony’s family was celebrating his birthday at their house
- He got drunk off brandy and was unable to control his thoughts
- Was upset that he couldn’t play the record he had gotten for his birthday because Anthony didn’t like it
- He caused a scene by throwing his brandy against the wall
- Anthony transformed him and thought him into a grave, deep in the cornfield
Good vs. evil.
Is Anthony good or evil?
Well, when Anthony is in the cornfield interacting with the animals, it says, “Every time there would be some kind of creature he had never seen before, and he would find its mind, and see what it wanted, and then give it to it.” (Bixby, 438). This doesn’t sound like the thoughts of a maniac killer. He is using his powers to help the less fortunate. So why did the people of Peaksville fear him? Perhaps it is because the mind of a three-year-old cannot comprehend the difference between good and evil. In Anthony’s mind he is helping everybody, even if it means creating horrible things, “Like the time Mrs. Kent’s husband, Sam, had come walking back from the graveyard, because Anthony liked Mrs. Kent and had heard her mourning.” (Bixby, 436). Anthony doesn’t know any better, he is a child; he is only doing what he thinks is right.
Although, It’s A Good Life is not your traditional science-fiction story (it borders more on fantasy or horror), it does demonstrate some fundamental sci-fi elements. Specifically, this story demonstrates a very good “sense of wonder.” This means that nothing is really explained, it is left up to the reader’s imagination. This literary technique is quite strong because it allows the reader to “fill in the blanks” so to speak. Instead of having things tediously explained, Bixby leaves it up to the reader to provide any necessary details for how things are accomplished. Basically, it is the imagination of the reader that propels the story.
There are also some minor elements of “science gone wrong”. Anthony’s appearance is never fully described, but there is mention of him casting an “odd shadow” and his personality doesn’t seem to be that of a three-year-old boy. Is Anthony a deformed monster? Was he born this way or did he use his powers to manifest a different form for himself? These questions are never answered, there are only minor clues sprinkled throughout the story to support them. The rest is left up to the reader to decide; this helps make the story different for each reader.
This story was turned into an episode for the popular science-fiction television series, The Twilight Zone.
A sequel to this story was also made into an episode entitled, "It's Still a Good Life", about a grown-up Anthony who is still terrorizing Peaksville, while his daughter, Audrey starts to exhibit the identical powers of her father.
Another version of this story appears in the popular Simpsons Halloween special, Treehouse of Horror II. The segment entitled "The Bart Zone", has Bart in the role of Anthony terrorizing the residents of Springfield with his mind.
Bixby, Jerome. "It's A Good Life." The Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Ed. Robert Silverberg. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 1998. 433-448.