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Leinster, Murray – “The Strange Case of John Kingman” (1948)

03/27/2012

A contemporary story set in an insane asylum, where a doctor discovers that patient John Kingman, a mute man with a perpetually feverish temperature and six fingers on each hand, has been living there since he was first admitted in 1786. His royal surname, moreover, was given to him on account of his being “aloofly amused at the impertinence of a mere human being addressing [him], who was so much greater than a mere human being that he was not even annoyed at human impertinence.” Much of the narrative is given over to solving the mystery of his age, and it eventually comes to light that he was confined after he mysteriously appeared following the fall of a swarm of shooting stars. His identity revealed to the authorities, Kingman (who draws, from time to time, technical blueprints that no one had been able to decipher before) is about to be turned into a fount of new weapons technologies when he is instead accidentally poisoned and reduced to the mental capacity of a mere human.

Oddly, even after Kingman is revealed to be an immortal alien from another planet, everyone continues to blindly accept the fact that he is an insane immortal alien from another planet who escaped from an asylum on his home planet only to be land up in one on Earth. This point is hammered home when the alien, in order to teach the humans a lesson, provides a “sketch of a certain reaction which such inferior minds could not possibly understand… When they tried that reaction and square miles turned to incandescent vapor, the survivors would realize that they could not trick or force him into giving them the riches of his godlike mind.” Fortunately Braden, the doctor, reminds everyone that the patient “is a paranoiac. Suspicion and trickiness are inherent in his mental processes. At any moment, to demonstrate his greatness, he may try to produce unholy destruction. You absolutely cannot trust him! Be careful!”

This is in service to Leinster’s larger point about the insanity of science being hitched to weapons research, but it is still rather lacking in any kind of internal logic.

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