Dodkin's Job
by Jack Vance

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Astounding Science Fiction, October 1959

collected in —
Future Tense
When the Five Moons Rise

April 2009

Organizational linkages

The novelet "Dodkin's Job" by Jack Vance is a simple classic about Organization, that is, about linkages. Society may be thought of as the workings of an intricate machine, with all the parts working happily at their complementary functions.

We needn't think too much about linkages, ordinarily. When you turn your automobile's steering wheel, the tires swivel in the direction desired. The engine provides motive energy to those same tires, and the car rolls along the road. But actually, the steering wheel does not touch the tires, nor does the engine. Linkages of various kinds apply control, transfer power, and return feedback. Cogs and cams, belts and levers and hydraulics. Couldn't make it to the end of the block without them.

In a thoroughly ordered society, all the human cogs work as they are supposed to, and the linkages among them can be taken for granted. The labor market is totally managed in a thorough command economy. So, enter a fellow who does not fit too well:

Luke Grogatch, age forty, thin and angular, dour of forehead, sardonic of mouth and eyebrow, with a sidewise twist to his head as if he suffered from earache, was too astute to profess Nonconformity, too perverse to strive for improved status, too pessimistic, captious, sarcastic and outspoken to keep the jobs to which he found himself assigned. Each new reclassification depressed his status, each new job he disliked with increasing fervor.

Finally, rated as Flunky, Class D, Unskilled, Luke was dispatched to the District 8892 Sewer Maintenance Department and there ordered out as night-shift swamper on Tunnel Gang No. 3's rotary drilling machine.

It's a rough job, meant to be done rather mindlessly. Ah, but Organization provides rewards:

... his present expense account was barely adequate, comprising nutrition at a Type RP Victualing Service, sleeping space in a Sublevel 22 dormitory, and sixteen Special Coupons per month. He took Class 14 Erotic Processing, and was allowed twelve hours per month at his Recreation Club, with optional use of bar bells, table-tennis equipment, two miniature bowling alleys, and any of the six telescreens tuned permanently to Band H.

Directives for cogs

And then a directive comes down, a routine improvement in efficiency. I won't go into details here, but Luke decides he has to pursue the issue. Whence this directive, though? Where in the great social machinery did the directive originate? — And this is Jack Vance's story, told mostly in a rather dry, matter-of-fact style. With sufficient detachment, it's really quite funny.

Of course, people could never be turned into mere social cogs, never could resign themselves to being so cogified. Or cogify themselves. Could they?

I should clarify that "Dodkin's Job" is not about leaders and policymakers putting on a bluff front or a pretense of intellectual shine by means of speechwriters, ghostwriters, idea men, and the like. It's not really personal, albeit "Dodkin's Job" has a good set of neatly-presented characters. Rather it's about the social machinery itself, Organization it's called here, management if you like but considered as a vast machine.

John W. Campbell as editor of Astounding Science Fiction liked printing stories that were entertaining but also made the reader stop and think. Ever since first reading Jack Vance's easy but memorable take on society and decision-making in "Dodkin's Job", I for one tend to gaze slightly askance on the delightful efficiencies of Organization.


© 2009 Robert Wilfred Franson


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