Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Country of the Kind (1955)

Science Fiction Hall of Fame entry by Damon Knight is an alternate take on Lovecraft's perennial "Outsider," in this case a genetically altered exile viciously roving a future world. Short narrative follows the wicked exploits of our unnamed, lawless, self-described king of the world, free to do as he pleases, ruining property and terrorizing citizens (whom he dubs non-imaginative "dulls") who merely wait helplessly until he passes like a summer storm. He can work great mischief but can do no physical harm lest he fall into an epileptic seizure. Turns out, this is his sentence for having committed murder while a 15-year-old young adult: his body chemistry has been tweaked to render him both ugly and odorous, making him more easily avoided and ignored, elevating his status as homeless pariah even as he visibly trolls the surrounding society. The story catches this wretch at his breaking point, no longer angry at his fellow man, merely desperately lonely for companionship; his "creative" outbursts of late have been little more than distorted yawps for attention. This clarifies an underlying tragedy: not only did our antihero commit his crime while an admittedly abnormal youngster, he seems to suffer from a psychological malady not addressed by the same sciences capable of making a monster out of him. Hard to tell the cure from the inherent poison? Better to undergo capital punishment than suffer certain kinds of kindness.

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