Mark Clifton and Frank Riley obviously were influenced by the McCarthy era, during which they wrote. They’d Rather Be Right supposes that the repression of McCarthyism continued and strengthened for forty years. In this world, scientists are told what to “study” and everyone is told what to “think.” The assumption produces a world much like that of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four (1949), but Clifton and Riley’s dystopia is far less vicious than most. There is no violence at all in the story itself; a mob scene occurred before the events recounted, and no one was killed or even seriously injured. A world created by generations of harsh repression ought to seem horrible to the reader. Instead, Clifton and Riley imagined a government no more intrusive, and a citizenry less violent and bigoted, than today’s reality.
The reader might ask why the repressive and stagnant society of They’d Rather Be Right appears so pleasant. Although the 1950’s were a naïve and civilized time in many ways, some science-fiction writers of that day succeeded in visualizing futures more horrifying than reality, for example, Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth in The Space Merchants (1953). One gets the impression that Clifton and Riley simply could not bring themselves to describe depravity.
Perhaps it is the inappropriate gentleness of They’d Rather Be Right, given the book’s cultural premises,...
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