|"Report of the Special Committee on the Quality of Life"|
as Eric G. Iverson
|First Appearance||Universe 10|
"Report of the Special Committee on the Quality of Life" is a short story published by Harry Turtledove under the Eric Iverson pseudonym. It was first published in the anthology Universe 10, edited by Terry Carr, Doubleday 1980 and then in a slightly altered form, in Alternate Americas, edited by Gregory Benford & Martin H. Greenberg, Bantam 1992 and Departures, Del Rey, 1993.
The story is premised on the idea that Spain under the reign of King Fernando and Queen Isabel had in place a bureaucracy of government agencies comparable to those found throughout the world in the 20th century. The story itself is in the form of a mock "report" prepared by one such agency, the Special Committee on the Quality of Life, and its chairman, Jaime Nosénada, prepared in 1491. We learn that this is the third such report. The first committee, chaired by Hernando de Talavera, recommended against Cristóbal Colón's plans in 1490 (just as it did in OTL). A second committee, chaired by Pedro González de Mendoza, also refused.
The most recent report is an analysis of Colón's proposed voyage across the Atlantic Ocean as a means of reaching Asia. The report, enumerating the various risks such a voyage would pose to the sailors and country as a whole, recommends that the monarchs reject the proposal. Implicitly, Colón never makes the voyage, with the consequences of that decision left to the readers' imagination.
The story's satire of unimaginative bureaucrats is pointed. The chairman's last name, Nosénada, may be read as the Spanish sentence "No sé nada", which translates into English as "I know nothing." Obviously, the chairman indeed knows nothing, allowing his terror of the unknown determine the course of his report; he deems the risk of the voyage to far outweigh any benefits.
Needless to say, Turtledove does not consider the potential good such bureaucracies can do, and so the story might be critiqued for its "one-sidedness". However, insofar as it takes aim at the negative aspects of government agencies, this five-page story succeeds quite well.