Twenty five years ago, the intellectual writer Arthur Herzog wrote IQ83, an apocalyptic novel which explored what would happen if the IQs of the world's leaders plummeted. The book is now about to become a movie - out of Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks factory and directed by Barry 'Rain Man' Levinson. With the world in the throes of a crisis and war in the Middle East looming, ROBIN HEALEY conducted a timely interview with the now 75-year-old
Herzog


 

 IN recent months we have witnessed examples of behaviour which perhaps would not have occurred if Mensans had any say in the matter - simplistic thinking about complicated issues, racial slurs, general displays of ignorance and stupidity, warmongering, blind panic and hysteria. In his brilliant apocalyptic novel IQ83, which appeared exactly 25 years ago, Arthur Herzog, who also wrote The Swarm (which was filmed) and environmental disaster novels Heat and Earthsound, seems to have seen into our future; in his novel he speculates on what might happen if, by some terrible blunder, the IQ of every person in the U.S. plummeted to 83.

        To anyone with any imagination this must rank as one-of-the-most horrifying scenarios ever created in science fiction, and Herzog, whose own IQ was measured at 168 at the age of six, does not spare us the terrifying details. In a lab devoted to a ground-breaking DNA experiment a research scientist is careless with a culture and thus, over a period of a few weeks, the future of mankind is placed in jeopardy. Unfortunately, the damage is done long before anyone realises what has happened.

    At first the effects are hardly noticed. The memories of top scientists slowly begin to lose their power. Not only that, but advertising jingles and TV catchphrases and childish smut intrude themselves into the thought processes of the leading protagonist, James Healey; a colleague turns into a racist and sexist boor; the boss finds himself reciting snatches of obscene limericks. But far worse soon follows.

     The protagonist decides to take an IQ test and discovers to his consternation that simple logic puzzles he had once breezed through now present considerable problems; the test results confirm what he has now suspects.

      He is losing IQ.

     Further tests reveal the terrible truth - the process is continuing. With IQ loss comes further problems. Healey's spelling deteriorates; moreover, even though by this time he has traced the source of the ' stupid sickness', as he outlines the nature of the plague to a group of fellow scientists he finds his fluency gone. He hesitates, repeats himself, gropes for the correct words. Worse still, it becomes hard to absorb complex information, and thus his effectiveness as a scientist is compromised. The issue then becomes a race against time. Will our hero find a cure for the sickness before the brain power necessary to achieve this aim has deserted him?

      Within weeks the IQ plague has spread beyond the lab to the community and beyond. Those with humbler IQs can hardly perform the most menial jobs; a promising research assistant becomes a nymphomaniac; the hero's wife, who had once been a gifted attorney, becomes a couch potato and his two clever children abandon themselves to less challenging pastimes.

       Before long whole cities have been affected. Unions refuse to negotiate with their employers; erratic and selfish driving causes death and destruction. Road rage is rampant. The government make plans to limit the possible effects of the IQ loss. More beauty pageants, strong-man shows and quizzes will perhaps keep the populace amused. Then, most terrifying of all, the authorities, fearing that the balance of world power is imminently threatened, seriously consider exporting the 'stupid sickness ' to the Soviet Union. A world teeters on the abyss. As for the denouement, suffice it to say that the dramatic tension and filmic qualities which Steven Spielberg recognised in this superbly paced narrative, are there to the very end.  

        I'm not going to reveal what happens. You'll have to read the book or see the film, which is in the process of being made for Dreamworks, with Barry 'Rain Man' Levinson as director. IQ83 addresses issues which, as far as I know, have never been treated in this way before. It makes for riveting reading.

 

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