The novel “Future Glitter”, also known as “Tyranopolis”, by A.E. van Vogt was published for the first time in 1973.
The whole world is under the dominion of dictator Lilgin and after some generations the total population control is complete thanks to a sophisticated mass surveillance system. When Professor Dun Higenroth invents the Pervasive System, which allows anyone to communicate remotely without the need for tools and to watch the watchers, the regime is in danger.
Dun Higenroth knows that the regime will do everything to take the secrets of the Pervasive System from him, even by extracting them directly from his brain. The only hope for a different future is to hide those secrets so that one day they can be used to overthrow the dictatorship.
In 1962, A.E. van Vogt published the novel “The Violent Man”, set in the Communist China of that time. The author spent about 8 years writing it and to learn what he needed he stated he read more than 100 books about China. That material helped him to create the dictatorship where he set his short story “Future Perfect”, on which he based “Future Glitter” adding some inspiration to Stalin in the creation of dictator Lilgin.
Today, the parallelisms can be seen with North Korea extending that dictatorship to the whole world. It could be said that this is the ultimate dictatorship in which absolute control of the population has been established. The regime has become so efficient that it can last for over a century by eliminating any form of opposition, at least until the invention of the Pervasive System.
The basic idea of ”Future Glitter” is intriguing: in a mass surveillance situation, the solution for citizens is to reverse it by watching their rulers in turn. It’s an idea proposed with a number of variants even in recent years following the controversy about the ever-pervasive mass surveillance not in North Korea but in Western democracies. Another science fiction writer, David Brin, spoke about it in his 1998 “Transparent Society” essay and keeps on proposing that kind of idea.
In the world depicted in “Future Glitter” this possibility of watching the watchers is not developed using the same tools of the regime but is born with a science fiction invention. Professor Dun Higenroth invents the Pervasive System, a leap forward in the ability to communicate remotely, and triggers the reaction of the regime.
From the beginning, A.E. van Vogt uses the story related to the Pervasive System to describe the means used by the regime to maintain its power. This is done in the typical style of the author, with a number of plot twists. This has always been this author’s strength but also his weakness, in the case of “Future Glitter” in my opinion they don’t give it enough strength.
The beginning is intriguing, with the announcement of a decapitation and the subsequent extraction of information from the decapitated person’s brain. The development of the story, however, seemed to me to have ups and downs, with some interesting ideas but not well exploited. Among the best things I found there are for example the descriptions of certain mechanisms of the regime such as the use of women, reduced to objects with the most beautiful girls used as a prize for the services rendered.
The main problem of the novel is, in my opinion, a development that’s too chaotic. A.E. van Vogt has always been a writer who tended to write in a disorderly way, with plots leaping from one twist to the next. In his best works he managed to maintain some general control but “Future Glitter” doesn’t seem to me one of them.
It’s a shame because “Future Glitter” had a really good potential that went far beyond its many twists that are present until the end of the novel. If you already know a few works by A.E. van Vogt you can already have an idea of what to expect. If you don’t know him, read it if you are interested in the ideas contained in the novel and think you can stand a chaotic development, all of that without many expectations.