Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mark Clifton's "Clerical Error" (novelette, free): Good doctor bends the inflexible system for patient's sake

Quote from short story titled Clerical Error by Mark CliftonI liked it so much when I read it that I actually looked up several other stories of the author. Now, at a distance of many days, I still have good impressions but am slightly less enthusiastic. It packages familiar tropes in an entertaining story - sometimes quite satirical.

Office workers should see some familiar things here - related to job promotions. Told in a cynical way.

Story summary.

A dystopia where conformance is valued, & deviation seriously discouraged. David Storm, a conformist who's never had an original thought, rose quickly through the ranks to top of a government research organization, a position requiring a high security clearance. But at the pinnacle, no one tells him what to do; he must find it himself. A slow self discovery till he discovers the nature of his ailment. Insanity ensues.

Dr K Heidrich Kingston heads the asylum where David is admitted. But David is in a secure ward, under the charge of a second rate & manipulative Dr Ernest Moss; Dr Kingston doesn't have security clearance to enter this ward "because we might hear the poor demented fellows mumbling secrets". How does he help the patient?

Story is Dr Kingston's sometimes frustrating, other times heroic efforts to see the patient.

Eventually a happy ending.

Fact sheet.

First published: Astounding Science Fiction, February 1956.
Rating: A
Download full text from Internet Archive.
Included in Ellen Datlow's Sci Fiction classics.
Related: All stories of Mark Clifton.


Gwenny said...

You are quite right! That IS a delightful story. Thanks for reviewing it so I could read it.