This short story found in an anthology from the 1960s has a man accidentally placed in suspended animation, possibly from a dental anesthetic gone wrong, and wakes a generation in the future. He leaves the abandoned place he wakes in, and wanders the streets, to see things much the same as he remembered them on the day he went in for his procedure, except poorly maintained. The only new things visible are a fleet of white vans, labelled with some kind of entertainment service branding. He eventually runs into some people, who become startled at the bizarre questions the awakened man is increasingly agitatedly asking, resulting in the protagonist being detained and in the process, lobotomized. Once higher authorities examine the details, they realize what has happened, so for compensation, award the lobotomized man with a life-time subscription to the service those white vans maintain; virtual reality entertainment in home, where his eyelids are removed, and sensors implanted in his brain, so that the sensations of the "feelies" can provide the full sensations. The man is started off with westerns, as the authorities figure those will be more familiar to people from his era.


1 Answer 1


This is John D. Macdonald's "Spectator Sport" (1950).

From a summary of the story on TVTropes:

...a scientist invent time travel and travel 400 years into the future. He's surprised to find that society is little different from when he left, only more run down except for the vehicles owned by World Senseways. Unfortunately he's pulled into one of those vehicles and lobotomised so he can be hooked up to virtual reality. A regional director of World Senseways finds out about this too late to correct the mistake. He can't send the scientist back as he believes more will follow (he believes they have the perfect world, free of war and social conflict), so he 'compassionately' decides to hook him up permanently, which is "as close to Heaven as a man can get."

You have the story almost correct, except that Dr. Maddon time travels 400 years into the future, to find things very much the same except run down:

Once again he continued his aimless walk down the streets of the familiar city. There was a general air of disrepair. Shops were boarded up. The pavement was broken and potholed. A few automobiles traveled on the broken streets. They, at least, appeared to be of a slightly advanced design but they were dented, dirty and noisy.


He stopped in consternation as he reached the familiar park. His consternation arose from the fact that the park was all too familiar. Though it was a tangle of weeds the equestrian statue of General Murdy was still there in deathless bronze, liberally decorated by pigeons.

Clothes had not changed nor had common speech. He wondered if the transfer had gone awry, if this world were something he was dreaming.

The only vehicles in good repair are the white vans of World Senseways:

One new element of this world of the future bothered him considerably. That was the number of low-slung white- panel delivery trucks. They seemed to be in better condition than the other vehicles. Each bore in fairly large gilt letters the legend WORLD SENSEWAYS. But he noticed that the smaller print underneath the large inscription varied. Some read, Feeder Division — others, Hookup Division.

World Senseways does discover that he was a genuine time traveller, and should probably not have been immediately lobotomized:

Maddon was brought into the office by an attendant. He wore a wide foolish smile and a tiny bandage on his temple. He walked with the clumsiness of an overgrown child.

“Blast it, Al,” Handriss said, “why couldn’t your people have been more careful! He looks as if he might have been intelligent.”

Al shrugged. “Do they come here from the past every couple of minutes? He didn’t look any different than any other lobey to me.”

“I suppose it couldn’t be helped,” Handriss said. “We’ve done this man a great wrong. We can wait and reeducate, I suppose. But that seems to be treating him rather shabbily.”

“We can’t send him back,” Al Cramer said.

Handriss stood up, his eyes glowing. “But it is within my authority to grant him one of the Perm setups given me.

They implant him in a "Perm setup":

The bored technicians worked rapidly. They stripped the unprotesting Rufus Maddon, took him inside his cubicle, forced him down onto the foam couch. They rolled him over onto his side, made the usual incision at the back of his neck, carefully slit the main motor nerves, leaving the senses, the heart and lungs intact. They checked the air conditioning and plugged him into the feeding schedule for that bank of Perms.

Including removing his eyelids:

Back in the cubicle the technicians were making the final adjustments. They inserted the sound buttons in Rufus Maddon’s ears, deftly removed his eyelids, moved his head into just the right position and then pulled down the deeply concave shining screen so that Rufus Maddon’s staring eyes looked directly into it.

And feed him westerns:

T told them to dial him in on the Cowboy series. There’s seven years of that now. It’ll be more familiar to him.

  • 4
    From, no surprise, Fifty Short Science Fiction Tales.
    – Buzz
    Jan 4, 2022 at 22:47

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