The Smiling Future
Miriam Allen de Ford
Allen de Ford was a prolific author of both mysteries and
Fortean-flavoured science fiction stories. She was also an active
feminist, disseminating information about family planning in a time
when that was illegal in many regions. Although
anthologized while alive
since her death she seems to have lapsed into obscurity, at least on
the SF side of thing. A pity.
“The Smiling Future” is perhaps not de Ford’s best known science
fiction work but it does have the advantage of being on the internet
archive, not true of much of her work (because her work was mainly
he Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, none of which
is on the archive). Also, it has dolphins and who doesn’t like
dolphins? Selecting it out of all the de Fords I could have selected
is therefore something of a calculated risk. Will the risk pay off?
found this story odd. The condescension of the Dolphins and the way
it seems the author agrees with them rubbed me the wrong way. Call me
a humanist. I get that the narrator turns out to be a Dolphin, but
unlikable narrators don't make good stories.
whole thing is a very pessimistic Malthusian fable. Overpopulation
leading to dystopic conditions for the masses of people. Malthus
continues to be proven wrong, though maybe not when this was written?
In any case I haven't seen a disproven theory deter authors much in
modern SF, so it's probably no great obstacle in old SF. The other
science bits in this story are just hilariously silly. How does
widening an ocean trench raise sea levels? When they first brought it
up I thought they were talking about filling in the trenches with
rock to raise the sea levels, which still probably wouldn't work but
isn't as completely wrong as the idea they went with. The other
bonkers theory was that radioactive fish would beneficially mutate
cetaceans to give them huge brains and psychic powers, rather than
huge tumours and congenital defects. It's a bit comic book.
thing I did find interesting was that in the story it turns out space
travel and colonisation is hard and expensive. Prohibitively so.
Seems to be the way things are going in the real world too for now.
casual acceptance of eugenics gave me pause, though I wasn't
surprised. It still weirded me out.
in all, a meh story that I didn't particularly enjoy.
reading The Smiling Future, I was reminded of a few cartoons I
watched as a child: the Flintstones, the Jetsons, and Scooby Doo.
There is an internet theory that the Flintstones and Jetsons
universes exist at the same time, and are a reflection of how
different classes live in a post-apocalyptic future. Everyone with
money escaped to the stratosphere, and everyone without had to stick
around on the ground, using animals and manual labor to do all their
work. In an episode of Scooby Doo, one of the “suspects” who was
acting strange was a marine biologist, working on a top-secret
invention to allow humans to communicate with dolphins. Oddly enough,
none of the cartoons of my childhood included a plot point about
genetically modified humans interbreeding with a superior race of
that this story reminds me of products made by 1960s-era Hanna
Barbera studios, I found it to be a bit ham-fisted. There were some
points of interest to me though, notably:
of investing in advances in efficient housing, population control,
and improved food production, the world leaders chose to waste their
money on space exploration, which ultimately failed.
image of 240 world leaders being at the mercy of a genetically
superior dolphin race is awesome. I love the idea that a group of
(presumably mostly male) people who have always been privileged and
never had to worry about external factors affecting their personal
and professional success are now at the mercy of a group of
dolphins. I suspect that if (spoiler alert) they hadn't all died
immediately before the end of the story, many of them would have had
a difficult time adjusting to their new place in the social order.
In fact, I can think of a few world leaders who I would love to give
a dolphin-ultimatum to. Who knows... being on the receiving end of a
dolphin-ultimatum might even increase their compassion for the less
fortunate – you know, people whose futures may be influenced by
events outside of their own control. ...but maybe not.
I'm sure the race would not find me remotely worthy, I still say that
I welcome our new Dolphin Overlords with open fins.
story was very dated - if it was published today, people would read
it as a tongue-in-cheek sci-fi satire. As it is, I have no idea how
serious the author intended this story to be.
setup is seemingly same ol’, same ol’. Planet full of radioactive
waste. Food shortages. Political upheaval. Population control. (Side
note: “proper eugenic standards” would definitely not fly today.
“Underdeveloped regions” may have just as much stigma in the
chlorella-gatherers are relevant today. Algae blooms are in the
media, and carbon fixing/sequestration is a buzzword-filled topic.
Algae and other food alternatives are popping up. Mycoprotein,
synthetic meat, insects, and other food replacements.
bits here and there mean I can’t take this story seriously. The
dolphins have trained whales and crabs. The dolphins speak “not
from mouths but from blow-holes”. (No, that’s not how that works.
That would be like us speaking out of tracheas.)
then there’s the ending. That’s when the story announces itself
as a dark comedy. It was so very Hitchhiker’s Guide/Battlestar
Galactica. You’re inferior, but let’s try breeding. Actually,
never mind. So long, and thanks for all the fish...because we
poisoned them for you but not for us.
premise of an out-of-control population boom feels dated. I’ve read
other SF with the premise of a drastically overpopulated Earth, so I
know it is an idea that was around, but today it seems odd that that
would be people’s biggest concern. The message about polluting our
own food supply has aged better, although I’m way too cynical to
accept a situation where the world is too busy trying to produce to
fight each other, if anything it seems like the conditions described
should provoke more conflict, not less.
casual endorsement of sterilization and eugenics and the implication
that they are necessary for humanity’s survival is downright
disturbing. I know that these concepts were once more readily
accepted, but randomly coming across them in the story is extremely
I don’t really know how to react to this story. Some aspects of it
are definitely dated and/or super problematic, and the story itself
is just so weird. Super powered dolphins is just such an odd choice
for the apocalypse, as is the dolphins’ suggestion for how to save