“The Big Trip Up Yonder” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr

“The Big Trip Up Yonder,” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is a short stories originally published in 1959 by Galaxy Science Fiction. Though I read it in The Fourth Science Fiction Megapack.

It takes place in the year 2185, where a substance known as Anti-Gerasone has effectively stopped everyone from aging. The characters are made up of the members of the Ford family, headed by their patriarch Gramps. And though all of them are over the age of seventy-five, they all appear to be around the age of thirty.

The exception to the above statement is Gramps, who was seventy when the medication was first distributed. Though he’s well over a hundred by the start of the story, having not aged another day since starting the drug.

The world of the story is one without privacy, where the family all sits around watching a giant TV. The story revolves around the characters and their desire to be named the beneficiary of Gramps will, a power the old man wields frequently and dramatically. Gramps however has something else up his sleeve, and so begins the humorous destruction and odd end for the Ford family.

There’s a line in Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You, that kept popping into my head. In a scene Alan Alda’s character, who is a liberal, is arguing at dinner with his conservative son. He cries out at last, “Somebody get me my will and an eraser!”  Which is one of my favorite all time Allen lines, and is pretty much the crux the story at hand.

That also pushed the author’s cameo in Rodney Dangerfield’s film Back to School in my head. If you haven’t seen it, Dangerfield hires Vonnegut to write a paper for a class he’s taking. The subject, Vonnegut himself. However when he shows up after the paper he wrote gets an F, Dangerfield yells at him, “Screw you Vonnegut,” and slams the door in his face.

“The Big Trip Up Yonder, ” speaks to the direction Vonnegut saw the world heading. His vision of the future when he wrote it in 1959? Giant televisions, no privacy, wealth only available through inheritance and a youth/media obsessed culture. Not far off good sir.

He also notes that an event in the story is watched by 500 million people on the Eastern Seaboard. For comparison, there are only 313 million people living in the entire United States today. But he wasn’t predicting 2013, he was predicting 2185. According to the UN’s massively wordy, H.G. Wells citing report, the population in 2300 could be as low as 2.3 billion, or as high as 36.4 billion. It was published in 2004, and suggests a middle ground with leveling off that would keep the population at around 9 billion.

So who knows? Maybe Vonnegut will be right about the population too. We’ll find out in 180 years.