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.