Home Fires: Cultural Differences

Wolfe gradually reveals a dystopian future in the background of Home Fires. This page will list some of the changes and their significance.

  1. The fast train is supposed to run 67 kph (about 41 mph), and this is twice as fast as the fastest car. Cars must do only about twenty miles per hour. This seems to be one of the many consequences of energy rationing. Huge energy expenditures are allowed for military use (e.g. for landers), but not for civilian use.
  2. North America has become unified, like the EU. The currency is called "noras."
  3. South America is also unified and in a state of severe political unrest.
  4. The Boston/Washington area has become one city, Boswash.
  5. There is never a mention of months or month names. There are days, weeks, hundred-days, and years. What sort of calendar reform is this? Asimov proposed a uniform calendar abolishing the old months, with 91 days per period. Four of these gives 364 days, a reasonable fit with the solar year. But four hundred-days is 400, which seems unreasonable. Does this calendar just let the years fall where they may? It seems impractical for things like birthdays and anniversaries (these things are not mentioned within the story). One character mentions holding a job for about 200 days, about half a year, so we know the year is around this length, not some longer decimal multiple like 1000.

    The solar year is slowly getting longer, but it takes centuries to add minutes. This story doesn't seem to be set that far in the future. One possibility is that uniformity for business purposes has trumped all other practical considerations. Possibly it was mandated by the power-mad politicians. Or it may be another separation of religion and state, like the contracts replacing marriage. Religious holidays would be observed based on seasons and solstices, not a particular day of the year (there is a mention of an office Christmas party, so Christmas at least is still celebrated).

    Chelle's arrival day is specified as Day 180. This suggests all days in the year are simply numbered from 1 to 400. There is no need for hundred-day period names, because they can easily be worked out from the top digit. It's clear that there's no synchronization with the seasons. Day 180 is in winter, and for us it would be around the end of June. Probably years are measured in cycles of 400 days, so all ages should be inflated by a factor of about 400/365. The system is absolutely, chillingly logical and human-centric, completely cut off from nature.
  6. Overpopulation has left many jobless. Women especially find it hard to get work, causing setbacks in their status in the workplace. They seem to be treated more like in the 50's and 60's.
  7. The energy rationing and high unemployment have led to the substitution of muscle power for machine power. There are cruise ships run by sails and tugboats run by oars.
  8. There is a government agency that gets after businesses to employ more people, the UEA. This leads to extra helpers everywhere. Skip speaks to a barmaid's assistant's helper, for example. Waiters have assistants, too.
  9. Tap water is not well-purified.
  10. Paper is rarely used (except for "mustprint" items). Colored paper is especially rare and impressive.
  11. Contracting has replaced marriage, though marriage still exists as a non-legally-binding religious ceremony. Gay contracting is no problem.
  12. Children can divorce their parents.
  13. There is universal health care, including for psychiatrists, but it does no good because of huge waiting lists. Given the high demand, why are there not more psychiatrists? No doubt the single-payer system makes it not worth people's time to enter this field.
  14. The death penalty is commonly used and applied swiftly, with little or no chance for an appeal.
  15. Skip says that all elected offices are for life. (This prediction is hard to take seriously).
  16. There are government agents that are above the law. With the memory-erasure technology they possess they are something like the Men in Black (and one such character plays with Black/White aliases).
  17. There are suicide clubs where people sign up to kill others and be killed in turn. They may have been inspired by the Suicide Club stories of Robert Louis Stevenson. Type [en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Suicide_Club_(Stevenson)] into your browser.
  18. Brain scan technology has led to many applications, including temporarily replacing lost loved ones by downloading a copy of their memories into a hired person. This idea is similar to the Doll House TV series. The same technology allows selective memory erasure and other mental manipulations.

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