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Russell, Eric Frank – I Am Nothing (1952)


In the far future, the universe is full of competing planetary kingdoms, “all of them born of some misty, long-forgotten planet near a lost sun called Sol.” This is the story of David Korman, the leader of the planet Morcine, a power-mad warmonger dedicated to the proving that the weak must give way to the strong. To that end, his strong planet has declared war on the weak planet of Lani, whose cities are all cowering beneath forcefields. This requires Morcine to send in infantry and tanks to strip bare the countryside and lay siege to the cities, which leads to a series of video recordings and war reports that are strongly reminiscent of World War II, replete with images of “crater-pocked roads, skeletal houses, a blackened barn with a swollen horse lying in a field nearby” and tanks destroying farmhouses and so on.

Korman and his long-suffering wife receive a letter from their son on the frontlines asking them to look after a Lanian girl who has captured his heart – this is set up as if she is an infantilized damsel-in-distress love interest, but she is revealed to be an actual 8-year-old girl who has been traumatized by the war. Korman is initially enraged by this softness, then begins to tolerate it, and then a psychologist gets her to write something about the war:

I am nothing and nobody. My house went bang. My cat was stuck to a wall. I wanted to pull it off. They wouldn’t let me. They threw it away.

Korman, heartbroken, reveals that he has always been feared, never loved, and also feels that he is nothing. They end the story weeping and embracing one another, and he reflects on the fact that true strength lies in accepting a new viewpoint.

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