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Kornbluth, Cyril – “The Mindworm” (1950)


Bleiler and Diky introduce this one as “biological speculation upon post-atomic life,” and sure enough, it starts with a couple having sex near a test site while “unfelt radiation sleeted through their loins.” The child, put up for adoption, “grew up stupid, puny, and stubborn, greedy and miserable,” but comes to realize that he has STRANGE MENTAL POWERS. This setup makes this kind of a dark reflection of the Wilmar Shiras stories, but Kornbluth actually manages to make it pay off. The Mindworm (never given a proper name in the narrative) runs off and begins rampaging around provoking people into extreme emotional states (destroying an artist’s magnum opus, dating and then proposing to a woman, so on), off of which he feeds (with fatal results).

He eventually ends up in an Appalachian mining town, which Kornbluth describes as being two towns at once: that of the native-born capitalists, and that of the Eastern European immigrant laborers. The Mindworm, attuned only to the former, begins his reign of terror again, only to quickly be beset, decapitated, and staked in the heart by a horde of men yelling “WAMPYR!” Not only had he been unable to read their non-English minds and dismissive of their culture, he had taken for granted the fact that “he had not been the first of his kind, and that what clever people have not yet learned, some quite ordinary people have not yet entirely forgotten.” As condescending as that is, it’s one of the more socially conscious messages in these volumes so far. It’s tough to admit that I’m speaking highly of a story featuring a death-by-marriage-proposal scene, but given the company it’s keeping here…

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