Do you stop reading science fiction when you encounter bad science, dated beliefs, or foolish concepts? I do if I’m warned ahead of time – but not if I’ve already gotten sucked into a the story. “Beyond Bedlam” by Wyman Guin is one such story that I kept reading once I realized it’s basic premise was ridiculous. It was first published in the August 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. I read it because of a friend recommending it and I read Robert Silverberg’s Reflections column about “Beyond Bedlam” being a one-hit wonder for Wyman Guin.

Maybe I shouldn’t tell you the premise for “Beyond Bedlam” because it might keep you from reading it. It’s available to read for free by following the link to the Galaxy magazine above, or by following this link to Project Gutenberg. The story is a short novella, about 20,000 words, so it will take you a bit of time to consume. Silverberg liked it well enough to anthologize it twice. Check to see if you have the classic 1980 SF anthology The Arbor House Treasury of Great Science Fiction Short Novels.

“Beyond Bedlam” is about a future utopian America that we would rebel against, but Wyman Guin presents as making sense to the citizens of that era. Guin didn’t write much science fiction because he worked in the pharmacological industry. His story presents the 29th-century America running smoothly because everyone is required by law to take psychiatric drugs. The characters in the story refer to our times as a dangerous failure because we let our emotions get the best of us. This by the way, isn’t the crazy premise of the story. Other science fiction stories have predicted people in the future controlled by drugs, and people do take a lot of drugs today for the mental health.

Guin takes one extra step that pushes the story into unbelievability territory – but I won’t give that away. Hopefully, you’ll start reading and get sucked in. Or maybe you will even think it a cool idea. Some science fiction fans love wild ideas no matter how silly they might be. I completely reject Guin’s speculation but enjoyed the story.

I understood why Guin wrote this story. I read lots of old books and watch lots of old movies, and the 1940s and 1950s was a time when people were fascinated with psychiatry and psychological mysteries. What’s particularly fascinating, and I’m giving a hint here that older readers might understand, is the 1951 “Beyond Bedlam” was written well before the 1957 bestseller, The Three Faces of Eve.

The reason why I found “Beyond Bedlam” compelling is Guin’s storytelling. Silverberg said Guin wrote 80,000 words of rough draft before distilling his story down to 20,000 words. It’s tightly plotted, with vivid characterization and great worldbuilding. It’s also filled with emotions derived from five characters’ unique movitations. Plus, “Beyond Bedlam” is quite adult, which wasn’t typical of science fiction in 1951.

Wyman Guin’s low output and his crazy premise will probably doom this nifty tale to obscurity. That’s a shame. “Beyond Bedlam” is not a literary classic. It’s a nostalgic tidbit from the dregs of decomposing pop culture that old fans fondly recall as they wait to die.

James Wallace Harris, 10/29/20

16 thoughts on “Good Science Fiction Bad Science

  1. “Beyond Bedlam” is a fantastic story! I reviewed it years ago on my site: https://sciencefictionruminations.com/2016/06/06/book-review-living-way-out-variant-title-beyond-bedlam-wyman-guin-1967/

    At the time, as you know, Freudian views had serious “scientific” sway in psychiatric circles. It strikes me as a somewhat early attempt to integrate those views into SF.

    And to answer you question, no, I don’t give two cents about outdated/foolish science. I do care about the how well-written the story is and how it sucks me in and what the overarching commentary it is making.

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    1. Every generation seems to embrace ideas that later generations laugh at. For example, 1950s science fiction entertained ideas about ESP/Psi/Dianetics/Dean Drive that we look down on now. Some readers still find that SF entertaining, while want to write off the whole era. What explains why some readers can enjoy older pop culture and others can’t?

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      1. Absolutely, I struggle not to look down at ESP etc. in SF. And I often can’t escape a few snarky comments about it…

        I dunno if you know, but Freudian literary theory is still a think in Europe (France in particular). In the US it’s fallen out of fashion. But SF that touches on Freud really resonates with me — for whatever reason (and not because of any belief in Freud’s theories but for the hilarious satire/black comedy that often results).

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        1. I’ll have to ask my wife (much more up on contemporary lit theory and fiction than I am) for more details about the French (especially) and Freud. I am talking more about literary analysis using Freud’s ideas… perhaps not so much current use in psychiatric study.

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        2. I think Freud was appealing, and still is for some people, but especially in literature, is his ideas were models we could understand and apply. PKD and other SF writers in the 1950s and 1960s got a lot of use out of them. Ditto for Jung. All during the 1970s, I heard about one new therapy after the next. I don’t hear about them anymore. Drugs seem to have replaced therapy. Actually, I love models that explain things, even if they are whacky. Have you ever read The Origins of Consciousness of the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes? Cool idea. Probably worthless, but I like it.

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        3. And Malzberg, and Zelazny (The Dream Master), etc. Yeah, I think there’s a middle ground with drugs + therapy (again, my wife studies contemporary views on mental illness in lit so I’ll have to ask her for more details).

          I have not. Sounds like a trip though.

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        4. It’s not only in literary theory, in France there’s even still a strong academic psychoanalytic Freudian current, and a resulting therapeutic practice. Much of that hinges on the popularity of Lacan in France.

          It just goes to show that much of the CBT that has a more serious reputation outside France is mainly about getting personal attention from a caretaker and being able to tell ones story, whatever the theoretical basis of the therapist.

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  2. It is usually possible to find/invent some fictional science “explanation” for a seemingly ridiculous premise. I recently read “Wine of the Dreamers” in the May 1950 issue of Startling Stories. For “Wine of the Dreamers”, John D. MacDonald imagined a form of technology-assisted telepathy that allowed folks from a distant planet to send their minds into the bodies of people on Earth. Such a thing might be possible with advance nanotechnology, allowing two minds to co-exist inside a brain. Maybe a hundred years into such an “invasion”, the people of Earth would come to accept “multiple personalities” as “normal” and the prevalent meaning of “schizophrenia” among Earthlings would be as depicted by Wyman Guin in “Beyond Bedlam”.

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    1. Expendable Mudge, I tried to leave a comment on your site but was told I couldn’t. So here’s what I wrote:

      I love unearthing these old forgotten SF stories. I wanted to write a review like yours and analyze all the details but I was afraid I might spoil the story for new readers. But then, I also wonder if it takes reviews like yours to get people interested.

      I’m still trying to figure out how I should write about stories.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The issue of “spoilers” is a thorny one, and one that has no overall application to satisfy readers. I take the tack that, if you’re reading reviews, you should expect the spoilers that come your way.

        Responses on my site are limited to those who follow me via Google, since I got very very tired of deleting trolling BS in the Teens.

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  3. I had not heard of this author or story, but thoroughly enjoyed it! I can overlook goofy/dated science if the story is original and compelling, which this one was. Thanks for introducing me to it.

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