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Authors: Robert Heinlein

The Year of the Jackpot

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The Year of the Jackpot

The Galaxy Project

Robert Heinlein
Series Editor Barry N. Malzberg


The Year of the Jackpot
Copyright © 1952, 1980 by Robert A. Heinlein, renewed 2003 by The Robert A. & Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust

Copyright © 2011 by Paul Di Filippo

Jacket illustration copyright © 1951 by the Estate of Ed Emshwiller
Cover art to the electronic edition copyright © 2011 by RosettaBooks, LLC

Special materials copyright © 2011 by RosettaBooks, LLC

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Electronic edition published 2011 by RosettaBooks LLC, New York.
ISBN e-Pub edition: 9780795321269


The first issue of
, dated October 1950, already heralded to the highest standards of the field. The authors it published regularly contributed to the leading magazine
, writing a kind of elegant and humanistic science fiction which although not previously unknown had always been anomalous. Its founding editor, H. L. Gold (1914–1996), was a science fiction writer of some prominence whose editorial background had been in pulp magazines and comic books; however, his ambitions were distinctly literary, and he was deliberately searching for an audience much wider and more eclectic than the perceived audience of science fiction. His goal, he stated, was a magazine whose fiction “Would read like the table of contents of a literary magazine or
The Saturday Evening Post
of the 21st century, dealing with extrapolation as if it were contemporary.” The magazine, although plagued by distribution difficulties and an Italian-based publisher (World Editions), was an immediate artistic success, and when its ownership was transferred with the issue of August 1951 to its printer Robert M. Guinn, it achieved financial stability for the remainder of the decade.

published every notable science fiction writer of its first decade and found in many writers who would become central figures: Robert Sheckley, James E. Gunn, Wyman Guin, and F. L. Wallace, among others.
revivified older writers such as Frederik Pohl and Alfred Bester (whose first novel,
The Demolished Man
, was commissioned and directed page by page by Gold). John Campbell fought with
and remained an important editor, and
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
(inaugurated a year before
) held to high standards of literary quality while spreading its contents over two fields, but
was incontestably the 1950s’ flagship magazine for the acidly satiric, sometimes profoundly comic aspect of its best contributions.
had a lasting effect not only upon science fiction but upon literature itself. J.G. Ballard stated that he had been deeply affected by
. Alan Arkin, an actor who became a star after 1960 and won an Oscar in the new millennium, contributed two stories in the mid-fifties.

At this point Gold was succumbing to agoraphobia, physical ills, and overall exhaustion (some of this perhaps attributable to his active service during WWII) against which he had struggled from the outset. (There is creditable evidence that Frederik Pohl was the de facto editor during Gold’s last years.) Gold would return some submissions with notes like: “Garbage,” “Absolute Crap.” Isaac Asimov noted in his memoir “Anthony Boucher wrote rejection slips which read like acceptances. And Horace wrote notes of acceptance which felt like rejections.” Despite this, the magazine retained most of its high standard and also some of its regular contributors (William Tenn, Robert Sheckley, Pohl himself). Others could no longer bear Gold’s imperiousness and abusiveness.


In the view of James E. Gunn, science fiction as a genre finds its peak in the novella (17,500–40,000 words) and novelette (7,500–17,500 words). Both forms have the length to develop ideas and characters fully but do not suffer from padding or the hortatory aspect present in most modern science fiction novels. The longer story-form has existed since science fictions inception with the April 1926 issue of
Amazing Stories
, but
developed the form to a consistent level of sophistication and efficiency and published more notable stories of sub-novel length than any other magazine during the 50s…and probably in any decade.

The novella and novelette as forms make technical and conceptual demands greater, perhaps even greater than the novel, and
writers, under founding editor H. L. Gold’s direction, consistently excelled in these lengths. Gold’s most memorable story, “A Matter of Form” (1938) was a long novelette, and he brought practical as well as theoretical lessons to his writers, who he unleashed to develop these ideas. (John Campbell of course, had also done this in the 40s and continued in the 50s to be a directive editor.) It is not inconceivable that many or even most of the contents of the 1950’s
were based on ideas originated by Gold: golden technology becomes brass and jails its human victims when it runs amok—is certainly one of his most characteristic.


Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988) is by acclamation the most important and originating science fiction writer in the history of a genre marked by the first issue of
Amazing Science Fiction
in April 1926. Heinlein, a 1929 graduate of the Naval Academy, served during peacetime in command posts, contracted tuberculosis, was involuntarily retired in the mid-thirties and first became involved unsuccessfully in California politics as a disciple of Upton Sinclair. Failing to achieve electoral office, he wrote an unpublished polemical novel (published posthumously as a curiosity) and then turned to science fiction. Within less than three years after his first publication in
(“Lifeline,” July 1939) he stood alone as the most successful and respected science fiction writer in the history of the genre. Early novels such as
Methusaleh’s Children
Sixth Column
appeared in
along with memorable stories like “By His Bootstraps,” “Universe,” “Blowups Happen” and “The Roads Must Roll.” He paused during wartime for military liaison work, returned to writing in 1946 and after becoming the first writer to sell science fiction to the general circulation magazines he embarked upon the series of Scribners juveniles which defined the form and brought hundreds of thousands of young readers to the field. A four-time Hugo winner for best novel and three-time World Convention Guest of Honor, Heinlein received in 1974 the first SFWA Grand Master Trophy, an award created explicitly to honor him. His 1961 novel
Stranger In A Strange Land
became one of the signal novels adapted by the counterculture; its 1965 successor
The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
was almost as successful. His long later novels were controversial for their self-indulgence, but his audience continued to grow. It is debatable whether Heinlein or his friend Isaac Asimov was the science fiction writer who had the greatest influence on the culture and on generations of scientists. They argued good-naturedly about it.


Paul Di Filippo is the author of many science fiction novels, the best known of which is the seminal
The Steampunk Trilogy
, and over a hundred short stories, several of which have been final balloted for the Nebula Award. He has been a regular columnist (the satirical “Plumage From Pegasus”) for many years in
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
. He has been a regular book reviewer for
Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine
for well over a dozen years and is the science fiction reviewer for Amazon.


COVER IMAGE: “Merry Christmas to Our Readers” by Ed Emshwiller

    Ed Emshwiller (1925–1990) was
’s dominant artist through the 1950s. His quirky images, perspective, and off-center humor provide perhaps the best realization of the magazine’s iconoclastic, satirical vision. Emshwiller was—matched with Kelly Freas—science fiction’s signature artist through the decade and a half initiated by this color illustration. He and Carol Emshwiller, the celebrated science fiction writer, lived in Long Island during the period of his prominence in science fiction. (Nonstop Press published
Emshwiller: Infinity X Two: The Art & Life of Ed and Carol Emshwiller
, a joint biography and collection of their work in visual and literary medium, in 2007.) In the early 70s, Emshwiller became passionately interested in avant-garde filmmaking, and that passion led him to California, where he spent his last decades deeply involved in the medium of independent film and its community. He abandoned illustration: in Carol’s words “When Ed was through with something he was really through with it.” He died of cancer in 1990. His son, Peter Emshwiller, published a fair amount of science fiction in the 80s and 90s.


Very few writers of the fantastic are accorded full-length scholarly biographies. J. R. R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, James Tiptree, Ray Bradbury—and, just recently, Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988), with William Patterson’s
Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907–1948): Learning Curve
. Patterson’s study is testament to the ongoing titanic influence Heinlein exerts on the field he helped to modernize and define. With his novels nearly continuously in print and read anew and debated by each generation, Heinlein still overshadows nearly all science fiction being written today, whether as a guiding light or
bête noire
. And while his excellent
novella “The Year of the Jackpot” is not part of the canonical “Future History” that defined a central part of Heinlein’s legacy, it certainly fits neatly into that schematic—save for its continuity-violating climax—offering us not only fine entertainment, but also some insights into Heinlein’s themes, beliefs, and tricks of the writerly trade.

Readers of this introduction should be aware that major plot points will be revealed, and those wishing a spoiler-free experience might choose to read the novella first.

Now, onto the discussion!

Heinlein’s “Future History” stories—the very model for Campbellian science fiction and its like-minded successors—are laid out on a graphic timeline reprinted with most editions of the stories. This correlation of related narratives by internal chronological order was in itself a very useful milestone in science fiction, and we are not even considering the high quality of the fiction on the chart.

Astute readers have noted that there are no stories listed which chronicle a twentieth-century period dubbed “The Crazy Years,” except for “Life Line,” Heinlein’s very first sale. And even that landmark story is problematically pegged to the earliest years of that era.

Here is the description of those decades from the chart itself: “The Crazy Years: Considerable technical advance during this period, accompanied by a gradual deterioration of mores, orientation and social institutions, terminating in mass psychoses in the sixth decade, and the Interregnum.”

Readers encountering “The Year of the Jackpot” who are also familiar with this description of the “Crazy Years” will instantly experience a shock of recognition. For the mad, mad global landscape of fads, follies and febrile phantasms that Heinlein conjures up in the first half of his novella is the pluperfect essence of the “Crazy Years”: “This year the human race is letting down its hair, flipping its lip with a finger, and saying, ‘
Wubba, wubba, wubba

Our hero is Potiphar Breen, unassuming and innocuous mathematician—a statistician, to be precise. For some time now, Breen has been analyzing the cycles of history and collating new data which indicates that mankind has collectively gone off the rails of sanity. A living datum in this regard is Meade Barstow, a young woman who finds herself inexplicably compelled by the zeitgeist to strip nude in public. Rescued from her embarrassing situation by Breen, Meade serves as a sounding board for the statistician to reveal his theories—to her and to the reader. This comprises the first third of the story.

The second third finds Breen continuing his studies, deepening his chance-founded relationship with Meade, and, when he senses that a crisis point has been reached, escaping the collapse of civilization and entering a wilderness refuge with Meade.

BOOK: The Year of the Jackpot
12.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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