Election Day” by Michael Shaara – Classics of Science Fiction

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“2066: Election Day” was first published in Astounding Science Fiction, December 1956. You can read it on Archive.org. It is story #18 of 22 for The Best SF Stories of 1956 group read. “2066: Election Day” was a selection for Dikty’s SF anthology covering 1956-57 published in 1958 and for Asimov/Greenberg 1988 anthology devoted to the best SF of 1956. It’s also been reprinted in several interesting theme anthologies.

I read Michael Shaara’s famous novel about the civil war, The Killer Angels back in the 1970s, so I’m surprised to see his name here. However, I have discovered other famous writers who got their start writing science fiction. Shaara published several SF stories before moving on.

“2066: Election Day” is about a future America where we elect the president by selecting the most qualified person using a network supercomputer called UNCLE SAM. Anyone can take the test to see if they qualify. The story is about the 2066 election when SAM considers no one qualified.

I’ve always wondered why we don’t have more requirements for the job of United States President other than being a natural born citizen that is at least 35 years old. When I was in my early twenties, I took and passed a civil service test to get a temporary job at the IRS as a data entry clerk. I genuinely doubt Donald Trump could have passed that test, or any civil service exam.

I’ve always thought we should have more qualifications for the job of president. I would suggest either a law degree, or a doctorate in political science or history, and having served at least one term as a state governor, or two terms as a U.S. senator, or a minimum of ten years as a major of a U.S. city with a population over one million.

In “2066: Election Day,” Shaara has the requirement of taking a test that covers knowledge in many subjects, including economics, taxes, military, political science, etc. I’m not sure book learning should be the sole qualification, but meeting minimum scores on such tests could be part of the requirements too.

“2066: Election Day” doesn’t have much of a plot, being mainly an essay about an idea, but Shaara does show Harry Larkin going through a few different emotional states. That’s a big plus for this story.

I was surprised by Shaara repeatedly stating the process was aimed at finding the best “man” for the job. No mention of women. That would have shown more foresight. (There is a hint that women could be president, because there’s a little old lady is taking the tests at the beginning of the story.)

My friend Mike told me he didn’t think this story had anything worth discussing. And it is the kind of science fiction story where the author contorts the short story form to express ideas they want to promote. But to paraphrase that adage, “If you have a message, use Western Union.” I would say, “If all you’ve got is an idea, write an essay.” Shaara added a minimal story as a wrapper for his ideas.

For “2066: Election Day” to be a genuine short story, we’d have to experience Harry Larkin going through a struggle, developing as a person while overcoming obstacles. A good short story should produce a cathartic emotional reaction in the reader, even an epiphany. I thought Shaara tried but didn’t make it. Everything came to Harry Larkin, he never worked for anything in the story.

James Wallace Harris, 1/6/24

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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