The Test (Futures of Yesteryear)
Richard Matheson, an American writer born in 1926, divided his literary career between writing fantasy and science fiction showing in both an inclination towards strangeness and horror. His first science-fiction short story, Born of Man and Woman, 1950 (republished, New York: Buccaneer Books, 1991), was a big success both in the US and in France where it was published in the review Fiction. Matheson's science fiction is not based on science or technology, but originates from rational situations where the individual's monstrosity, which makes him singular, or that of the society which refuses deviation, anomaly or simply divergence from the norm, as in The Test, is described in a sober and efficient style. His most famous novel is no doubt I Am Legend (New York: Tor Books, 1997) where the last "normal" man becomes a terrifying myth among a population of vampires. Richard Matheson made a very popular appearance in France, at the "Étonnants Voyageurs" ("Amazing travellers") festival in Saint-Malo, in 2000.
The short story you are about to read has been edited many times in French, a good indication of its value. First published in 1957 in the review Fiction, it was reedited in 1970 in the anthology Après... la guerre atomique ("After... the Atomic War" - Paris: Marabout), and in Histoires de l'an 2000 ("Stories from the year 2000" - Paris: Le Livre de Poche, 1985, republished in 1999) and finally in L'Intégrale des nouvelles de Richard Matheson ("An Anthology of Richard Matheson's Short Stories" - Paris: Imagine, Flammarion, 1999).
Forty years after its first edition in French, it hasn't lost an ounce of its unsettling visionary value. It deserves to be compared to Thomas Disch's astonishing short story, La Mort de Socrate (The Death of Socrates, revised from Problems of Creativeness, 1972, first published in Fiction, n°168, and also republished in Histoires de l'an 2000), in which a young man's right to marry and have children is also determined by a test.