Temple, William F. – “Forget-Me-Not” (1950)
A slowly-unfolding example of science fictional gnosticism, a genre unto itself that I imagine will pop up more and more as the New Wave begins to unfold. Temple drops the reader into something Not Quite Right beautifully: the story opens with Direk, the young protagonist, telling his mentor Lock that he’s off to walk around the world; Lock says “Again? Well, I shall still be here when you come back.” This world is not only small enough to be quickly walkable, but walled in, illuminated by “stars” spaced regularly in the sky, from which, at random intervals, food plummets. Meanwhile, at night when the lights are off, corpses vanish, and “sinners” are sometimes found to have been mauled in their sleep, with no memory of their assault. The life of most of the population is given over to sitting around sullenly and then fighting over the food, but Lock is a bit of a philosopher, and his wards Direk and Sondra have taken on some of his free-thinking attitude (the male Direk more than the female Sonda, of course).
Direk, it probably goes without saying, eventually breaks into the real world, experiences the majesty of nature for the first time (complete with a revelatory apple-falling-from-a-tree), and realizes that what “the others thought was the whole world was but a small cavern beneath the great cylindrical tower,” but then decides he has to go back for Sondra and Lock. Dree, the Demiurge of the tale (who appears to be some sort of mad scientist? His actual identity is never really made clear), welcomes Direk back with open arms, revealing that this was all a test and that he was sure that Direk rushed back to his comfortably-familiar imprisonment after being overwhelmed by the outside world. It’s here that the story takes an uninspired turn: Direk defies Dree, is punished savagely for his heresy and tossed back into the cavern, then finds that the rest of the cave-dwellers are too close-minded to believe his story of an idyllic outside world. His fiery individual spirit awakened to the rational truth, though, he vows to fight on against their false religious view of the world, etc etc.