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Clifton, Mark – “Clerical Error” (1956)


Another story about modernity’s fracturing of young white men, although this time the target is mostly inhumane bureaucracy. The protagonist, K. Heidrich Kingston, is the psychiatrist in charge of “the government workers’ mental hospital” seeking to prevent the lobotomy of David Storm, a patient. Because of the patient’s higher Security (proper noun “Security” is an odd commonplace in these stories; “you can’t ignore the Security program, because that’s a sacred cow which no one dares question”) clearance, though, Kingston can’t be allowed near him. To start things off, without ever having met the patient, Kingston uses his “true empathy” ability to figure out the man’s life history – he became a scientist only because it was expected of him, exemplifying the societal problem with “science allied to big government, and controlled by individuals who have neither the instincts nor the knowledge of what science really is. This has given birth to a Security program which places more value upon a stainless past and an innocuous mind than upon real talent and ability.” The ideological divide between Cold War paranoia over the free market of ideas is, it turns out, responsible for the “sharply rising incident of disturbance among these young scientists in government work.” Kingston, not as rigid in his thinking as these young men, thinks outside the bureaucracy and fills out the necessary paperwork to have himself committed as Storm’s roommate and talks him back to sanity. Not science fiction to speak of.

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