Wednesday, February 10, 2010

L Sprague de Camp's "Alanias" (novelette, war, free): A device to turn people into "pathological liars"!

One of the illustrations accompanying the short story Alanias of L Sprague de Camp in Dynamic Science StoriesI would normally expect a hilarious story if de Camp is wielding a liar-making machine. This one is not funny. Probably the sobering effect of looming World War II when this story came.

Story Summary.

In a world war in early 1970s where the British Empire is still intact & the warring world is divided into Alliance & Confederacy, with US & Russia in later camp, & Japan in former.

Apart from weapons of destruction, we see widespread use of propaganda. That's when Dr Hoyle, a US psychologist, gets the idea for the ultimate propaganda machine that will win Confederacy the war: a little instrument to be sneaked into all sorts of communications equipment used by the enemy.

The instrument repeatedly urges the speaker to lie, but in volume so low the speaker doesn't really hear it! Since the message to lie is constant every time someone uses these appliances, "the minute neurotic impulses caused by these sounds would in time wear the necessary paths in his brain" & turn the subject into "pathological liars". So the enemy leaders & generals begin lying to their own staff, ultimately resulting in total loss of credibility.


  1. "Truth, like a gem, has many faces; you do not know it until you have looked at them all."
  2. On interviews with prominent people: "extracting the facts of tomorrow from the vital minds of today."
  3. "you [a country] can't be too fussy about your friends or you won't have any."
  4. "national honor, which as nearly as I can make out is the kind of prestige you get by inflicting insult & injury on another & getting away with it."
  5. "you can get people fighting over these imaginary abstractions such as honor, if anything more easily than over real objectives".
  6. "Repeat a thing often enough, & it leaves an indelible impression on a man's mind, whether he wants to believe it or not."

See also.

  1. Henry Kuttner's "Nothing But Gingerbread Left" (download) & Ray Bradbury's "The Irritated People". Both are very funny, sometimes hilarious, stories about propaganda. Former during actual war, & with an idea similar to this story. Bradbury's is a war of nerves whose central idea & objectives are different, but tactics are somewhat similar.

Fact sheet.

First published: Dynamic Science Stories, April/May 1939.
Download full text as part of the scans of the original magazine where it first appeared.
Rating: B.
Related: Stories of L Sprague de Camp; fiction from 1930s.


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