Trojan Horse Laugh
by John D. MacDonald

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Astounding Science Fiction, August 1949

September 2013

Happy days are here again, and again
Divert your psyche
    Adjust your id
Join the crowd and
    Groove yourself, kid.

With the overlapping puns in the title of John D. MacDonald's novelet "Trojan Horse Laugh", we may surmise that it looks into some happy utopia which, when broken open, reveals a dystopia. The story is science fiction, and a fairly realistic treatment of how attitude adjustment might be embraced by a substantial percentage of the American population. Sort of an anti-depressant, pro-euphoric, but mainly emotional cycle-smoothing treatment. It's inexpensive and entirely voluntary, although peer pressure and general acceptance push it along.

The gotcha is that although the treatment is given to individuals, the psychological rhythm that ensues is collective: that is, it not only generally elevates one's mood for most of its cycle, it aligns or coordinates the emotional cycles of those in the target population who have taken the treatment. Here's part of a sales pitch, after describing an example case of an unhappy family:

"This basic life rhythm is the product ... of the secretions of the glands and variations in the intensity of the electrical impulses within the brain itself. Now look at this chart. This shows the same family after adjustment. We have not eliminated the cycle. We have flattened the woman's cycle, made the man's a bit more intense, and adjusted the cycles of the two children.

"Now this family can plan ahead. They know that during each thirty-day period they will feel increasingly better for twenty days. Then there will be five days of warm joy, and a five day decline, not too abrupt, to the starting point. They will feel good together, mildly depressed at the same time. They can plan holidays accordingly and they can always judge the mood of the other members of the family by their own mood."

Ah, emotions. Quite a trick — or scientific advance. What makes "Trojan Horse Laugh" work neatly is MacDonald's everyday realism and believable characters. A simple premise for a thought-provoking and dramatic story.


© 2013 Robert Wilfred Franson

Compare R. W. Franson's review of
"Never Underestimate"
by Theodore Sturgeon

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