David Langford reveals the bare facts
One of our columnists bids farewell this issue.
Not a lot of people know that Hugo Gernsback, the SF magazine pioneer after whom the Nebula Award isn’t named, liked to publish spoofs of glossy US journals as substitute Xmas cards. His 1945 effort, copying the design of Time magazine but called Tame, was dated Christmas 2045 and reviewed the first century of the Atomic Age. In this 2045, maybe thanks to a long history of radioactive fallout, normal Earthlings are bald and an actress with hair is promoted as a weird throwback. Tame’s cover shows a bald secretary thinking correspondence into her “mindwriter” machine...
Did this inspire Arthur C Clarke’s 3001: The Final Odyssey, in which baldness is among the bare necessities for working with future technology? Hair gets in the way of the Braincap interface that lets you use Clarke’s amazing Thoughtwriter and ( unless you have huge powers of concentration) send messages full of asides like “Sorry again – trouble with Thoughtwriters – hard to stick to point –”
HG Wells made his baldy prediction long before Clarke or Gernsback, in the 1893 essay “The Man Of The Year Million”. This scientifically imagines Future Us as big- brained and big- eyed, with shrunken body and limbs overshadowed by that mighty hairless intellect. Wells’s own Martians in War Of The Worlds are like this only more so, and the tradition carries on to other bad baldies such as the Mekon.
In comics, another famously wicked bone- dome is Superman’s nemesis Lex Luthor, whose entire life was warped by premature hair loss. His vaunted scientific genius is somehow unable to come up with the kind of solution imaginable even to the rudimentary mind of Donald Trump.
Fortunately some bald chaps are on the side of the angels, like Professor Xavier of the X- Men and Captain Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Not to mention most of the psi- powered Baldies in Mutant ( 1953) by Henry Kuttner and CL Moore, where those gifted with the power of telepathy are marked from childhood with hairless pates so ordinary folk can persecute them. Perhaps the furious mental activity of thought- transfer fries your follicles.
All this brings us to the terrifying real- life prediction made by US psychic The Amazing Criswell, who played himself in the legendary Plan 9 From Outer Space. His “sensational bestseller” Criswell Predicts offers a definitive scenario for the future, including: “I predict one of the most horrifying things to befall any woman. I regret to predict that women will lose their hair. I predict that scientists will try to prove that the cause of this falling out of the hair is due to the gaseous fumes polluting the city’s air.” Foolish scientists.
Yes, apocalypse looms in St Louis, Missouri, with “law suits, divorces, murders, desertions and even massacres ... male hairdressers will be murdered ... beauticians will be beaten, slashed and shot. Divorce courts will be swamped with irate husbands seeking freedom from their bald- headed wives.” Surely not if they look anything like the shaven ladies in Star Trek: The Motion Picture ( Persis Khambatta) or Dune ( Francesca Annis).
Fortunately Criswell calculates that after three grim months, “new hair will be grown as mysteriously as it disappeared.” When will this horror begin? The scheduled date of our psychic’s infallible 1968 prophecy is, er, February 1983.
“Fortunately some bald chaps are on the side of angels, like professor x”