If you’ve been paying attention to the Mayans and watching a lot of programs on the History Channel about Ancient Aliens – good lord, I love how the History Channel has morphed from all WWII all the time to seriously lunacy – you know that the world is going to end on December 21, 2012. Day by Day by the Brothers Kollin imagines that end of the world as a sort of Groundhog Day writ large: instead of just one man waking up reset on a single day in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, it is everyone everywhere.
This is seriously old school science fiction, and as such, was an absolute treat for me to read. At some point too long ago to remember any googlable details, I read an article about the serious philosophical and psychological implication of Harold Ramis’s little goofy comedy, complete with estimates for how long weatherman Phil Connors would have taken to learn all the skills he does in the film. If you spend any time thinking about it, the idea of being stuck in a single day is an absolute nightmare once you’ve done all the goofing and hedonistic stuff such a scenario presents.
When I originally watched the film many years ago – though I saw it just again last month, coincidentally – I laughed myself to tears over the suicide sequence. There is something objectively hilarious about a man getting up, ripping a toaster out of the wall in the dining room, and then tossing it into the bath. ZZZt zzt. And it’s funny precisely because the whole situation has so completely destroyed the concept of the meaningful act. I don’t know, because I’m not looking it up, but I would imagine that people who consider suicide tend to work out a series of symbolic acts – this one meal, this last note, a gesture, whatever – and that Phil just wakes up and kills himself without preamble is funny precisely because it’s the godamn worst. Haha, graveyard! I whistle past you!
Point being, the implication of a whole planet full of people who are stuck in a Groundhog day scenario is the kind of thing that science fiction was made for. I love the thought experiment, love it, and I love it even more when the thought experiments anticipate my “but…what! what about this?” thoughts and then answer them. In a scenario where everyone resets to the same physical situation, but they hold memories from every single reset single day, what happens to babies? What happens to fiction? What about the different time zones? Etc. Etc. All of my questions were answered in a satisfying manner, even if I’m inclined to disagree about certain implications. (Not that I do too much – just, I respect that in a narrative arc, certain things will out, even if they’re not, like, wholly plausible. That they are plausible at all is enough.)
The other thing I’m grooving on in this story is how topical it is; we’re two months from the Mayan Apocalypse. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the world will not end in any fashion, let alone the one laid out here, on December 21, 2012, but exact date of the end of the world has always been a sucker’s bet. Zero percent of end times’ prophesies have been right so far, though I know it just takes the one. But I love anachronistic science fiction, like the short story collected in Kurt Vonnegut‘s Bagombo Snuff Box written before space flight that imagines the ether around planet earth as filled with the ghosts of our ancestors. And holy god, what a nightmare that is – your mother-in-law able to reach out from beyond the grave and keep telling you what to do. Blah. That this story will be anachronistic fast is delicious, like watching Y2K: The Movie (Planes falling from the sky! Ken Olin’s huge sweater!) in the month before December 31, 1999, only not terribly stupid like that.
Anyway, get on this short story before the clock expires, nerds who like classically minded science fiction short stories. Or don’t, which could be fun in its own way too, reading this while the zombie hordes bang at the barricades. Haha! Those assholes Kollin got the Mayan doomsday entirely wrong! Could someone hand me a machete? I have to clear the fences again. And by way of full disclosure, Dani Kollin is a friend of mine, and my husband designed the website for his first novel. But we’ll be taking you up on those surfing lessons, Dani, if the world ends in the kind of stasis posited in this thought experiment. If I’ve got nothing but time before the despair sets in, I’m going to get as much as possible in. And I don’t even like being wet all that much. Twss.
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Oh, and in a wonderful bit of crowdsourcing, a reader on Goodreads knew which article I meant: