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"It's a Good Life"
Author Jerome Bixby
Country United States USA
Language English
Genre(s) Horror, Science fiction short story
Published in Star Science Fiction Stories No.2
Publication type Anthology
Publisher Ballantine Books
Media type Print (Paperback)
Publication date 1953

"It's a Good Life" is a short story by Jerome Bixby, written in 1953. In 1970 it was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the 20 finest science fiction stories ever written. The story was first published in Star Science Fiction Stories No.2.

Contents

Plot summary

Anthony Fremont is a three-year-old creature. There is no reference in the story about its nature. It can be a human being, an animal or alien. With near-godlike powers he can transform other people or objects into anything he wishes, think new things into being, teleport himself and others where he wishes, read the minds of people and animals and even revive the dead. He may not be wholly human in appearance; hints in the story mention his "odd shadow" and "bright, wet, purple gaze," and the obstetrician at his birth was said to have "screamed and dropped him and tried to kill him." The town's other children are told that Anthony is a "nice goblin" but they must never go near him.

Anthony's powers were present at birth, as it was able to kill the obstetrician and then, instinctively, separate its birthplace, the town of Peaksville, Ohio, from the rest of Earth moments after it was born. Nobody knows whether Anthony transported Peaksville somewhere or whether the rest of the world (or for that matter, the universe) was destroyed and only the town remains.

There is no electricity, and the residents have to make their own things and grow their own food; the latter is somewhat difficult as Anthony changes the weather to suit itself. The adults must satisfy its every whim, or risk displeasing it. Nobody is safe from Anthony, not even its own family, although they can sometimes influence it slightly; after a "smiling" suggestion from its father, Anthony sends the remains of its victims into the cornfield behind the Fremont home after it has finished with them.

As Anthony can read minds, the town's population must not only act content with the situation when near it, but also think they are happy at all times. However, the story does not present Anthony as malevolent or evil, just a three-year-old creature with any young child's limited grasp of the world, yet with god-like powers. Even its sincere attempts to help those it likes often go horribly awry, which is why everyone acts as if everything is "good" no matter what—because any change Anthony makes could be much worse. Since Anthony can act immediately on any whim, those it dislikes can come to a quick and nasty end, even if it regrets it later, and no one dares suggest it undo what it has done because, again, the results could be even worse.

The story mostly takes place during a surprise birthday party for the Fremonts' neighbor, Dan Hollis. The residents take turns passing around certain objects, like books, music or furniture, since they cannot acquire anything new from the outside world anymore. Dan receives a newly-discovered Perry Como record for his birthday and wants to play it right away, but Anthony does not like singing, so the others advise him to wait until he gets home. Dan gets drunk and begins demanding that they sing, first "Happy Birthday" and then "You Are My Sunshine." Angrily he turns on Anthony's parents, crying, "You had to go and have him," then he defiantly continues to sing as Anthony appears in the room. Anthony decides Dan is a "bad man" and turns him into some sort of horrific entity (not described in the story, but resembling a Jack-in-the-box in the movie incarnation) before "thinking" him into a deep grave in the cornfield.

Because Anthony's Aunt Amy carelessly complained about the heat earlier, the next day Anthony made it snow, which "killed off half the crops—but it was a good day."

TV and theatrical adaptations

The story was turned into "It's a Good Life", an episode of the television series The Twilight Zone, in which Anthony Fremont was played by Bill Mumy. The episode subsequently served as inspiration for one of the segments in Twilight Zone: The Movie decades later. A sequel to the story was made in the latest remake of The Twilight Zone (2002-2003) called "It's Still a Good Life", about a grown-up Anthony (starring Mumy again) still terrorizing Peaksville and his daughter (starring Mumy's daughter, Liliana Mumy) who starts exhibiting his powers.

Trivia

  • The story has been parodied in an episode of the animated Cartoon Network show Johnny Bravo, in one of the three "The Zone Where Normal Things Don't Happen Very Often" episodes.
  • During the climax of the comic series Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius, Ween corners the malevolent Director of the mysterious Agency and threatens that if he crosses Ween again, "I'll wish you away into the fucking cornfield."
  • Stephen King makes references to the story in The Plant and Firestarter, the latter having a somewhat similar theme during some of the flashbacks of the story.
  • The episode "I Can't Stan You" of the Fox show American Dad parodies this story, when Stan uses his CIA connections to send neighbors who dislike him to the "Cornfield Motel".
  • In the episode of The Emperor's New School entitled "Mud", which parodies various episodes of The Twilight Zone, Kuzco has a dream in which Kronk possesses powers similar to Anthony Freemont. Kronk wishes Guaka away to the 'llama meadow', and alters things to suit his own desires. Eventually, Kuzco rebels against him in a manner similar to Dan Hollis, and is turned into a giant spinach puff.
  • Footage of Rod Serling introducing the episode was digitally composited into the pre-show video for The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park. The exact line is, "tonight's story on the Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This as you may recognise is..." In the original episode, Rod Serling can be seen standing in front of a map of the United States. However, in the pre-show video, he is standing in front of a maintenance service elevator.
  • The episode is referenced in the King of Queens episode "Tube Stakes," in which Doug accuses Carrie of wishing his big-screen television into the cornfield by leaving the garage door open so someone could steal it. When she reacts with skepticism, he says "Yeah, classic Twilight Zone? Sci-Fi Channel? Never seen it? Let me see..." then makes as if to switch on the missing TV, then yells "OOOH! I CAN'T!"

See also

External links

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