recent months we have witnessed examples of behaviour which perhaps
would not have occurred if Mensans had any say in the matter - simplistic
thinking about complicated issues, racial slurs, general displays
of ignorance and stupidity, warmongering, blind panic and hysteria.
In his brilliant apocalyptic novel IQ83, which appeared exactly 25
years ago, Arthur Herzog, who also wrote The Swarm (which
was filmed) and environmental disaster novels Heat and Earthsound,
seems to have seen into our future; in his novel he speculates on
what might happen if, by some terrible blunder, the IQ of every person
in the U.S. plummeted to 83.
To anyone with any
imagination this must rank as one-of-the-most horrifying scenarios
ever created in science fiction, and Herzog, whose own IQ was measured
at 168 at the age of six, does not spare us the terrifying details.
In a lab devoted to a ground-breaking DNA experiment a research scientist
is careless with a culture and thus, over a period of a few weeks,
the future of mankind is placed in jeopardy. Unfortunately, the damage
is done long before anyone realises what has happened.
the effects are hardly noticed. The memories of top scientists slowly
begin to lose their power. Not only that, but advertising jingles
and TV catchphrases and childish smut intrude themselves into the
thought processes of the leading protagonist, James Healey; a colleague
turns into a racist and sexist boor; the boss finds himself reciting
snatches of obscene limericks. But far worse soon follows.
protagonist decides to take an IQ test and discovers to his consternation
that simple logic puzzles he had once breezed through now present
considerable problems; the test results confirm what he has now suspects.
He is losing IQ.
Further tests reveal the terrible truth
- the process is continuing. With IQ loss comes further problems.
Healey's spelling deteriorates; moreover, even though by this time
he has traced the source of the ' stupid sickness', as he outlines
the nature of the plague to a group of fellow scientists he finds
his fluency gone. He hesitates, repeats himself, gropes for the correct
words. Worse still, it becomes hard to absorb complex information,
and thus his effectiveness as a scientist is compromised. The issue
then becomes a race against time. Will our hero find a cure for the
sickness before the brain power necessary to achieve this aim has
weeks the IQ plague has spread beyond the lab to the community and
beyond. Those with humbler IQs can hardly perform the most menial
jobs; a promising research assistant becomes a nymphomaniac; the hero's
wife, who had once been a gifted attorney, becomes a couch potato
and his two clever children abandon themselves to less challenging
Before long whole cities
have been affected. Unions refuse to negotiate with their employers;
erratic and selfish driving causes death and destruction. Road rage
is rampant. The government make plans to limit the possible effects
of the IQ loss. More beauty pageants, strong-man shows and quizzes
will perhaps keep the populace amused. Then, most terrifying of all,
the authorities, fearing that the balance of world power is imminently
threatened, seriously consider exporting the 'stupid sickness ' to
the Soviet Union. A world teeters on the abyss. As for the denouement,
suffice it to say that the dramatic tension and filmic qualities which
Steven Spielberg recognised in this superbly paced narrative, are
there to the very end.
I'm not going to reveal
what happens. You'll have to read the book or see the film, which
is in the process of being made for Dreamworks, with Barry 'Rain Man'
Levinson as director. IQ83 addresses issues which, as far as I know,
have never been treated in this way before. It makes for riveting