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Synopsis

The constant wars of the early-to-mid 20th century led to an explosion in utopian scifi, with endless iterations of an ideal, peaceful society flooding the market. Usually, each of these utopias was flawed in some fundamental way: individuality suppressed, everyone on drugs, etc. Ray Cummings, in his 1964 masterpiece A Brand New World, takes things in a different direction entirely.

It’s a lovely autumn day in the mid-70s when something new appears in the sky: not a bird, not a plane, but a whole actual planet, complete with its own quietly orbiting moon. This, as you can imagine, causes some problems. Chief among these is that its presence knocks the Earth off its axis, wrecking the usual cycle of seasons and throwing global weather into an uproar. Once things have settled, the Earth has a new status quo: the North and South of the planet are each a frozen wasteland for half the year, and a warm, semi-paradise for the other half. How do the people of Cummings’ Earth react? Well, it’s a utopian novel, so you can guess. The nations of the Earth forget all their earlier animosities, vowing to work together in harmony so everyone can survive. All global efforts become focused on food production, with the North supplying the South for half the year, and vice versa. Warfare is a thing of the past. Missiles are left to rot in their silos, and the military essentially disbands. Sounds lovely, right? Oops.

Turns out that that new planet, called Xenephrene, is inhabited. Not everyone living there is a megalomaniacal lunatic bent on the destruction of the Earth, but really, it only takes one. And to Earth he goes, armed with a mysterious light ray that causes madness, destruction and death. And our poor newly-peaceful Earthmen are caught completely off-guard. If you’ve seen that episode of the Simpsons where Lisa convinces Springfield to give up their guns, only to have the town immediately overrun by zombies, well, it’s a lot like that. Come to think of it, the book might have inspired the episode.

How do our intrepid utopians fight off this alien madman? What exactly is up with that light ray? Does anyone fall in love with an alien chick? You’ll have to read to find out—and you really should, because this is a brilliant, highly original take on both the utopian novel, and the “new planet shows up in Earth’s gravitational field and generally ruins everyone’s day” genre, if such a thing there is.

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