Thursday, July 31, 2008

Murray Leinster's "The Strange Case of John Kingman" (short story, first contact)

Quote from short story titled The Strange Case of John Kingman by Murray LeinsterThis is an unusual & amusing first contact story: no space ships, no space travel, not even any obvious aliens. And yet...

Note it's not available online.

Story summary.

Meadeville Mental Hospital is the oldest mental asylum in the US, "founded some years before the Republic of the United States of America." Young Dr Braden here has discovered some anomalies in the records of a may be 50 year old inmate named John Kingman: no information on his age, relatives, even date of admission. And he has 6 fingers on both hands - all perfectly developed. "understands English very slightly if at all. Does not speak."

Further investigations begin revealing incredible information: he was admitted here on "21st of May, 1786", a full 162 years ago!! He is said to be suffering from "delusions of grandeur", behaves regally around everyone else, & keeps making funny pictures & throwing them at those around him.

Admitted 162 years ago & looking like 50! That makes Dr Braden order detailed tests. What he finds is two hearts, more ribs & vertebrae than normal, normal body temperature of 105F, ... In fact, a very different internal design, though he seems to have lived well off on normal food & looks like a normal human.

The sketches he keeps handing out turn out to be designs of an X-ray machine a doctor can carry around in his pocket, an atomic power plant that uses silicon for fuel, a bomb that will blow up its makers, ... And even in his insane state, he has an IQ that can make the smartest men look ordinary.

More investigations, & we learn that the newspapers around the time of his admission carried unusual sightings of shooting stars a day before he was found. And unusual circumstances in which he was admitted... A conclusion that he's an alien, was insane at the time he ran away to earth, successfully dodged his pursuers, etc. Washington gets involved in the case.

To learn the marvelous knowledge hiding in his head, he must be cured of his illness. But playing with an intelligence that makes human geniuses look ordinary even in its insane state is not exactly a rational call! Not exactly a happy ending - from human point of view.

Collected in.

  1. "The Best of Murray Leinster" (will post ToC later).

Fact sheet.

First published: Astounding Science Fiction, May 1948.
Rating: A
Related: All stories of Murray Leinster.