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Herbert, Frank – “Nightmare Blues” (1954)


In which a telepathic music machine leads to plagues of insanity. The year is 1999, people wear capes and overalls, and Dr. Eric Ladde is our heroic psychologist protagonist, who has a nightmare about a jazz singer* singing “Insane Crazy Blues” (now why wasn’t that the title of the story?) the night before he happens to meet that singer on the street. It quickly becomes obvious to Ladde and the reader that the outbreaks of the “scramble syndrome” have all taken place following concerts Colleen gave throughout the world, but she refuses to believe this. She also turns out to be both the literal AND the figurative woman of his dreams. Surprise, surprise. Sadly, she’s already engaged, to her controlling, psychopathic manager, who has a limp, ergo “Pete! Stop allowing your deformity to deform your reason!”


Ladde and Pete were both disciples of one Dr. Carlos Amanti – it was Amanti who developed the machine that became Pete’s “musikron” (“something like a recording and playback machine; only the operator mixes in any new sounds he wants. He wear a little metal bowl on his head and just thinks about the sounds-the musikron plays them”), which inadvertently also broadcasts his insanity, and it was Amanti’s training that allows Ladde to resist the effects. Colleen vacillates back and forth between the two men, returning to Ladde just in time to help him use a good version of the musikron to cure the craziness spreading throughout Seattle by means of a telepathic web of particularly sane individuals (i.e. psychologists). The aftermath would have been the most interesting part of this story, but we don’t get to see it.


This is the third story in a row to end with telepathic conversations.

* She’s “reviving the old time hot jazz” and references are made to Louis Armstrong, Clarence Williams and the Red Onion Jazz Babies, and Bessie Smith. There was an actual revival of trad/dixieland jazz going on at the time Herbert wrote this story, in the US and particularly in England, where it gave rise to skiffle and then the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. In the US, on the other hand, it started the careers of Steve Lacy and Roswell Rudd, who became two of the most important white members of the avant garde/energy music/free scene. None of that has anything to do with this story.

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