Riders of the Purple Wage

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Riders of the Purple Wage is a science fiction novella by Philip José Farmer. It appeared in Dangerous Visions, the famous New Wave science fiction anthology compiled by Harlan Ellison, in 1967, and won the Hugo Award for best novella in 1968, jointly with Weyr Search by Anne McCaffrey.


Explanation of the novel's title

The title of the story is a take-off on Riders of the Purple Sage, a Western by the American author Zane Grey.

Plot introduction

Riders of the Purple Wage is an extrapolation of today's tendency towards state supervision and consumer-oriented economic planning. In the story, all citizens receive a salary (the purple wage) from the government, to which everyone is entitled just by being born. The population is self-segregated into relatively small communities, with a controlled environment, and keeps in contact with the rest of the world through the Fido, a combination television and videophone. The typical dwelling is an egg-shaped house, outside of which is a realistic simulation of an open environment with sky, sun and moon. In reality each community is on one level of a multi-level arcology. For those who dislike this lifestyle, there are wildlife reserves where they can join "tribes" of Native Americans and like-minded Anglos, living closer to nature for a while. Some choose this lifestyle permanently.

Art (and art appreciation) are prominently displayed in this society; artists receive press coverage comparable to that of today's movie stars. Hardly less glamorous are the art critics, each of whom has a pet theory about art. A critic also acts as an agent or manager, promoting the work of one or more artists, especially if their work seems to support his ideas. The story revolves around one of these pampered artists, who sometimes find themselves uninspired, due to the lack of major conflicts in society.

Sexual relations and sexual orientation are portrayed as absolutely free from prejudice. The main character is bisexual, and it is implied that most of his acquaintances have had at least experimental relations with members of both sexes. Several forms of birth control are also commonplace, encouraged by the government and freely discussed. See also: sex in science fiction.

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