World – Knight

Knight (World 14)

Damon Knight (1922 – 2002; first SF publication, 1940) has a gift for seizing your imagination and taking you down paths that seem familiar, but aren’t. He hasn’t written many series — in fact, most of his SF writing is in short stories, from five to a hundred pages long. A key exception is CV and its two sequels, which explore an alien invasion — not by Martians in tripods, but by invisible symbionts who want everyone to act with reason. (Is that a good thing? A bad thing? The answer isn’t easy.) “Rule Golden” explores a similar theme — what would happen if every intentional harm were suffered equally by the person intending the harm?

Even today, thirty years after I first found one of his books, the reminder of some of his stories can make me laugh. But his humorous stories aren’t jolly frolics; they are as dark as they are amusing. SPOILER ALERT UNTIL END OF PARAGRAPH … His most famous story of this sort is “To Serve Man,” about aliens who arrive and declare their intent to help all mankind. Their help is gratefully accepted, until a translator discovers that their manual, How to Serve Man, is a cookbook.


In A for Anything (also published as The People Maker), a device — a “gizmo” — is created that can duplicate anything, animate or inanimate. You’d think this would be a good thing, wouldn’t you? Overnight, want is eliminated, but by the next night, people have realized that the true power now lies in controlling labor, and Earth becomes a world of tightly held feudal estates: rule by the most ruthless. The story climaxes with revolt, but realize that Knight will not always give you a comfortable resolution.


 The Worlds of “What If …?”
 Shelley (61)  Piper (21)  Cherryh (41)
 Verne (62)  Norton (22)  Gibson (42)
 Wells (63)  Dick (23)  Clayton (43)
 Williamson (64)  Silverberg (24)  Card (44)
 de Camp (65)  Biggle (25)  Hogan (45)
 Laumer (66)  Wilhelm (26)  Longyear (46)
 Bradbury (11)  Le Guin (31)  Brin (51)
 Heinlein (12)  Niven (32)  McDevitt (52)
 Pohl (13)  Killough (33)  Moon (53)
 Knight (14)  Foster (34)  Bujold (54)
 Schmitz (15)  Pinkwater (35)  Roberts (55)
 Anderson (16)  Robinson (36)  Asaro (56)