"Generally, the human race avoids doing anything radical until forced into it."
- Frederik Pohl
||Emotional Register (ER)
||A small disk worn in the forehead that discloses the emotional state of the wearer.
James Solent is one of the first on his block to receive a new device that will return a proper reserve to the British public.
|For London it was one of those hot July evenings in which the human mind is engulfed in a preoccupation with the moist palm, the damp brow, the armpit.
Sweating continently, James Solent emerged into the motionless heat of Charlton Square. With a folded newspaper raised to his forehead in an odd defensive gesture, he came down the steps of the grey trailer onto the grass and paused. The door of Number 17 where he lived, beckoned him; but competing with the wish to go and hide himself was a desire to overhear what the three men were saying.
"Such a gross imposition could only be swung onto a politically indifferent electorate," one said.
The second, lacking words to express what he though of this sentiment, guffawed immoderately.
"Rubbish!" the third exclaimed. "You heard what the Minister of Health said the other day: this is just what’s needed to give Britain back her old sense of direction."
It was the turn of the first man to burst into mocking laughter. Seeing Jimmy standing nearby, they turned to stare curiously at his forehead.
"What’s it feel like, mate?" one of them called.
"You really don’t feel a thing," Jimmy said, and hastened across the square with his newspaper still half-heartedly raised.
He let himself into Number 17. From the hall he could hear Mrs Pidney, the landlady, drowsily humming like a drowned top in the kitchen. The rest was silence. Reassured, Jimmy discarded his paper, revealing the disc on his forehead, and went up to the flat he shared with his brother. Fortunately Aubrey Solent was out, working late at the BIL; that undoubtedly saved Jimmy an awkward scene. Aubrey had grown uncommonly touchy of recent weeks.
The flat contained the usual facilities, a kitchen, a living room (with dinerette), Aubrey’s large bedroom and Jimmy’s smaller bedroom. Everything was so tidy that the one glossy-jacketed LP lying in the middle of the carpet looked to be posing. Skirting it, Jimmy hurried into his room and closed the door.
Just for a moment he played a tune on the panelling with his fingertips. Then he crossed to the looking glass and surveyed himself. The suit Harrods had made him before he began his new job in January was daily growing to look better on him, more like him; for the rest he was twenty-five, his brown hair not objectionably curly, his face round but no ugly, his chin neither aggressive nor recessive.
All, in fact, he told himself, sighing, alarmingly ordinary. "Oh ye of the average everything," he addressed himself, improvising, as he frequently did, a rhymed oration, "Oh, ye of the average height, overtaken by taller folk, undertaken by smaller folk… an average fate one might certainly call a joke."
One feature only was definitely not, as yet all events, ordinary: the shining circle. Three and a half centimetres in diameter, permanently fixed in the centre of his forehead. Made of a metal resembling stainless steel, its surface was slightly convex, so that it gave a vague and distorted image of the world before it.
|From The Primal Urge,
by Brian Aldiss.
Published by Ballantine in 1961
Additional resources -
Compare to the palm flower from Nourse and Johnson's 1967 novel Logan's Run.
Thanks to icecycle for pointing this one out.
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