Sunday, November 11, 2007

Larry Niven's "The Jigsaw Man": Chilling implications of human organ transplant technology

Quote from The Jigsaw Man by Larry NivenFantastic & very dark story about how far the insane law makers can go. While the scenario described appears too mad to actually come about,

  1. there are occasional newspaper reports about someone seriously hurt or even killed while a maniac mined the victim's body for organs.
  2. on at least two occasions since I read this story a few weeks back, a cabinet minister has been reported as talking about the need to increase the size of human organ banks in India. While innocuous by itself, & in good faith, history advices watching out for unsaid consequences.
This is a very different theme compared to other Known Space Series stories of Niven I have read till now.

Story summary.

Story is set in late twenty-first century.

Warren Lewis Knowles is an undertrial - almost certainly destined for death penalty.

Death penalty in this society doesn't involve beheading, hanging, electric shock, or a lethal injection. It is said to very humane! The convict is drugged, dumped in supercool liquid & is put to sleep; then, while the victim is still alive though unconscious, every parts of his body is mined for medical use - only his brain is burnt!!

Because organ graft increases life expectancy, politicians have used it to argue for death punishment for a lot of offenses! Increases organ supply, & is popular with voters - at least till they end up on the wrong side of the deal!

Warren's neighbor in prison, is also headed for death row. But he is determined not to let the society benefit from his body. Anticipating this day, he had "a bomb where my right thighbone used to be".

Neighbor blows himself out. The explosion has created a hole in prison wall - so Warren escapes. Only his cell was high up in a building, near the roof! After some adventure, he ends up safely in the next building. And it turns out - this building is the organ storage facility - because jail next door produces ample supply!

But he won't be able to escape. Gets noticed in this building. While alarms are sounding, he decides to at least do the damage worthy of his impending death sentence. So he ransacks the place - destroying a lot of stored organs. And is eventually caught.

We hear his conversation with his lawyer in court during trial. Prosecution is not charging him for ransacking the organs storage; they are confident of getting him death penalty for original offense.

Because, you see, the original offense was what we would normally call ordinary traffic rules violations!

See also.

  1. Cory Doctorow's "Printcrime": Similar in that this is also a future dystopic society where a certain activity receives punishment completely out of proportion with the crime. And the protagonist, after experiencing this justice system, is determined to actually commit a crime that is worthy of punishment.

Fact sheet.

"The Jigsaw Man", short story, review
First published: Harlan Ellison's "Dangerous Visions" in 1967.
Rating: A
Series: "The Jigsaw Man", "Intent to Deceive" (B), "Cloak of Anarchy" (B).
Hugo Award nominee in short story category in 1968.


Larry said...

This sounds like one of the stories in Niven's collection The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton!

Tinkoo said...

I haven't read The Long ARM of Gil Hamilton. I read it in Tales of Known Space.