Dispatches from a Housing Conference in 2039


| September-October 1999


A cosmonaut attending a futurists' convention gets shot, then flash-frozen to await a future treatment for his wounds. He wakes up in 2039, just in time to attend a conference much like the one he left, only weirder. Science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem first published this satire in Polish in 1971.

Hayakawa from Japan presented plans for the house of the future—800 levels with maternity wards, nurseries, schools, shops, museums, zoos, theaters, skating rinks, and crematoriums. The blueprints provided for underground storage of the ashes of the dear departed, 40-channel television, intoxication chambers, sobering tanks, gymnasiums for group sex, and catacombs for nonconformist subculture communities. One rather novel idea was to have each family change its living quarters every day, moving from apartment to apartment like chessmen—say, pawns or knights. That would help alleviate boredom. In any event, this building, having a volume of 17 cubic kilometers, a foundation set in the ocean floor, and a roof that reached the stratosphere, would possess its own matrimonial computers—matchmaking on the sadomasochistic principle, for partners of opposite persuasions statistically made the most stable marriages (each finding the answer to his or her dreams)—and a round-the-clock suicide prevention center.

Hakayawa, the second delegate, demonstrated a working model—on a scale of 10,000 to 1. It had its own oxygen supply but no food or water reserves, since the building would operate entirely on the recycling principle: excreta and effluvia would be reclaimed and reprocessed for consumption. Yahakawa read a list of the delicacies that could be reconstituted from human excrement. Among these were artificial bananas, gingerbread, shrimp, and even artificial wine, which, notwithstanding its rather offensive origin, rivaled France's finest burgundies. (Samples were available in the hall, in elegant little bottles, and there were also cocktail sausages wrapped in foil, though no one seemed particularly thirsty, and the sausages were discreetly deposited under chairs.) The original plan was to have this house of the future be mobile, via a powerful propeller, thereby making collective sightseeing excursions possible, but that was ruled out because, first, there would be 900 million houses and, second, all travel would be pointless. For even if a house had a thousand exits and its occupants employed them all, they would never be able to leave the building; by the time the last was out, a whole new generation of occupants would have reached maturity inside.

Reprinted from Scanning the Future (Thames and Hudson, 1999). Originally excerpted from The Futurological Congress, translated by Michael Kandel, ©1974 by The Continuum Publishing Company.