As it turns out, quite a bit.
This Perfect Day is a 1970 science fiction novel written by Ira Levin. Think of it as a companion piece to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. It is set in a world in which all of humanity is enslaved under an all-powerful supercomputer named UniComp that controls literally EVERYTHING. Even the weather. Humans are constantly drugged into compliance through chemical injections in order to keep that old pesky free will and independent thought at bay. UniComp makes ALL decisions for humanity. It decides whether you’ll get married, and to whom, where you work, whether you’ll reproduce, when to eat, and even when you’ll die. Nobody lives past 60 or so. You are assigned a mentor, or counselor, a big brother of sorts, who checks in on you and makes sure you remain one with “The Family.”
Everything is designed around the concept of maximum efficiency, as you would expect under the control of a benevolent digital dictator. If life under a god-like Alexa sounds like a living nightmare, it’s because it totally is. Except no one cares because they’re basically all tripping balls and getting laid and living luxuriously in the high-tech futuristic world of UniComp.
All except one man, “Chip,” or Li RM35M4419. Everyone’s assigned a random barcode-type name based on the four philosophical giants/founders of this new perfect world—Christ, Marx, Wood, and Wei. Try as he might, Chip can never quite conform to this society, and the story is his waking up from programmed hypnosis to fight the system, and ultimately overthrow it.
So, what does this have to do with the 1999 film The Matrix? Well, whoa. I’d be very surprised if the Wachowski siblings had not read this book before writing the screenplay. There are simply too many similarities to the point where it’s fair to say some of the elements in Matrix are direct allusions or even homages to Levin’s masterpiece of a thriller.
To begin, both worlds begin in a world under a totalitarian computer system that has lulled humanity into complete submission. In This Perfect Day this is accomplished through chemical injections and social pressure. In The Matrix the computer has plugged everyone into a virtual world while in reality their bodies are used as batteries to power the machines.
Both stories center around a man, early-30s or so, who is somehow different than his contemporaries, and secretly wants to fight the system. Neo is computer hacker by night, and reluctant computer programmer by day. Chip is a “genetic taxonomist,” and due to a mistake in his own genetic inception, has one green eye and one brown.
Both stories show the hero learning about a secret organization trying to fight the system, and then receiving initial contact from a beautiful woman. Trinity, the alluring leather-clad rebel tracks down Neo, while in Levin’s novel Chip meets Snowflake, a member of of a group of “incurables,” though he eventually forms a relationship with the attractive Lilac.
Chip and Neo are eventually introduced to the leader of the rebel group, both older, mature, mentor type guys. Chip meets King, a physician of sorts, while Neo meets Morpheus. And here’s where it gets really specific. Both characters are asked to swallow a RED PILL in order to free themselves from the computer’s mind control. Here’s a line from the novel (pg. 85) spoken by King to Chip:
“The red one has to be taken tonight and the other two as soon as you get up.”
From there the similarities between the two works begin to diverge somewhat. Chip, like Neo, struggles to maintain his new identity. He suffers a serious relapse and betrays his group, but it’s his love/lust for Lilac that eventually reactivates his humanity. Really, libido plays such a huge part in this novel as a catalyst and symbol of man’s free will (it was published in 1970, when basically everybody was banging all the time everywhere, remember).
The counselors in This Perfect Day aren’t exactly the fierce, ju-jitsu practicing supermen the agents are in The Matrix, but they are nonetheless powerful antagonists. Neo learns about Zion, a subterranean base for freed humans, though we don’t visit there until the sequels. Chip learns about an island for incurables called Majorca. There isn’t an Agent Smith, meaning a personified version of the computer, in the novel. Rather, Chip fights against the citizens of The Family, and even incurables themselves, in his quest to blow up Unicomp’s mainframe. But like Neo, Chip ends his mission in the air—not flying, but in a helicopter, soaring off to find his family and friends back on Majorica with Unicomp in ashes, and humanity apparently freed.
Clearly, Levin’s book served as inspiration for The Matrix, though to be clear it bears some big differences in plotting. This Perfect Day also has a fantastic reveal at the end that I won’t spoil here. I enjoyed this book immensely, but seeing how it influenced a major late 90s sci-fi smash hit was even more exciting. I’d even add that there are similar tropes to what you’ll find in current young adult “fight the power” genre, such as The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about these similarities. It was certainly fun finding them as I read along. Here are some fantastic lines from the book:
[Chip says on pg. 86] “It’s hard to believe it’s possible to have more than one orgasm a week.”
[Snowflake says on pg.69] “Machines are at home in the universe; people are aliens.”
Check out my novel Nemesis, a psychological thriller, now available on Amazon.