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Christopher, John – “Balance” (1951)


In a near-future proto-dystopia run by corporations, Max Hewison is a retired espionage agent who served his company for 18 years on Venus until swamp-fever forced him into a life of ease back on Earth (“Director Hewison couldn’t get you on vidiphone.” Max said: “No. That’s not surprising. I had it disconnected. The only business I have to conduct now is collecting my pension and I can see to that by the old-fashioned method of writing letters.” This sense of nostalgia surfaces again in Hewison’s insistence on never leaving the ground – he travels by railways that have survived in Southern Europe as a tourist trade). This story finds him pressed back into service, over a meal of Venusian swamp-pig, to help find and turn a genetically-engineered super-genius created in the service of a rival company.

What makes a super-genius, you ask? Well, think of regular geniuses, and “consider how one-sided his gift has invariably been. Newton the mathematician–and Newton the theologian, strenuously working out the size of the seventh horn of the Beast of Revelations. Einstein the mathematician–and Einstein the well-meaning but completely naive social scientist. Outside his own narrow field the genius is on level or even inferior terms to the rest of humanity.” The super-genius does not share this limitation, and threatens therefore to upset the balance of power between the companies that run the world (the rather oddly-specialized “United Chemicals, Genetics Division, Transport and Communications, Atomics, Hydroponics… and the rest.”).

Hewison does his spy thing and tracks the super-genius down, and both he and the reader are shocked to learn that she is a woman. It bears mentioning that she writes and publishes under pseudonyms, just like the genius children in Wilmar H. Shiras’s stories from 1949 and 1950, and further that her keepers allow her to do this because to them books were “toys” read by fewer and fewer people. There follows much discussion about how hard it is to be surrounded by “apes” when you are a remote, unknowable super-genius, and how it was the otherwise-simple nature of the regular geniuses that allowed them to maintain points of contact with their fellows. Hewison, recognizing her plight and also the threat that she poses to “liberty,” shoots her. Ugh.

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