Thursday is the day for throwbacks, which means it’s time for Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s ongoing column dedicated to the great science fiction of the past.
For today, we are going to talk about Jerome Bixby’s “It’s a Good Life”, a short story that first appeared in Star Science Fiction Stories No.2. As mundane as that sounds, it was much lauded. It was named one of the 20 greatest science fiction stories before the Nebula Award (the award started in 1966), and was later adapted to be an episode of the ‘The Twilight Zone’. It was even parodied in “The Simpsons” episode, “Treehouse of Terror II”. Bixby himself was a writer of famous ‘Star Trek’ episodes like “Mirror, Mirror.” So, essentially, we know “It’s a Good Life” going to be good, right?
On the surface, “It’s a Good Life” seems to tell the tale of a three-year-old boy, Anthony, with freakish mind powers. He is able to will things in and out of existence, read minds, and change the weather. He basically has god powers and freaks people out so much that even the doctor who delivered him tried to kill him.
The story is less of a story (as it is practically devoid of plot), and more of a vignette of a life where a whole town has to live in fear of a three-year-old that can do anything he wants. Everyone lives under a tyranny of thinking happy thoughts that will not displease him, lest they risk their deaths or something worse.He even punished his favorite person, his Aunt Amy, for admonishing him for turning the cat into a rug. He makes her simple and easy to get along with. Unfortunately, her lack of thought gets the town in trouble as she complains about the heat. To make her happy, Anthony makes it snows, which kills off half of the town’s crop putting them in peril. However, despite this, it’s remarked that it was a good day at the very end.
“It’s a Good Life” seems like a simple story about why children should not get everything they want, but it’s far more than that. It’s about tyranny in general. It’s about how people in their lives aim to make one despotic, irrational person happy because they fear for their own lives, and how easy it is to fall into that trap. It’s almost forgiving for why people will let themselves be ruled in such a way. In the end, they are alive, even though they are suffering, so they grin and bear and say “It’s a good day” because it ensures another day. Though written in 1953, it remains an important work of science fiction every decade since its inception, and it is well worth the read.