Damon Knight was an American author, editor and professional critic of Speculative Fiction
, and a founding member of the Science Fiction Writers of America and the Clarion Writers Workshop. He wrote many novels and short-stories, including the famous story "To Serve Man", which is the basis for our trope, To Serve Man
. He is also credited with popularizing the term "Idiot Plot
In 2002, SFWA renamed their Grand Master award in his honor, calling it the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award
. Knight himself had won the award in 1995.
Tropes in his works:
- AcCENT Upon the Wrong SylLABle: In "You're Another," there's a man in the year 4000 or so whose native language is Esperanto (though not named). When he speaks English, he has a thick Esperanto accent, and stresses the penultimate syllable of every word, just as in Esperanto. (E.g., "Now you vill give me d'instrument.")
- Adam and Eve Plot: The short story "Not Long Before the End" had two survivors of a biological war, one being an infirm pilot who barely survived the plague and the other being a nurse who had a natural immunity. The repopulating never happens, because she is a very moral woman and they're not married. (And where are they going to find a priest?) The pilot eventually dies, because he has an attack of the sickness in the one place she would never follow him: The men's bathroom.
- Aesoptinum: The short story "Rule Golden" has an alien that spreads a special plague which induces tele-empathy. This means that prison guards become depressed from the sadness of their prisoners, somebody that strikes someone else will feel the pain from their blow, and somebody that kills someone else will suddenly drop dead (strangely, this even includes such acts from a distance, such as shooting someone, which just kills the shooter rather than everyone else within the same radius). The ostensible reason the alien does this is to make humans become peaceful before they invent interstellar travel, with a side benefit supposedly being the elimination of hierarchic governments (since "government is force"). For no particular reason, the plague affects all warm-blooded animals, not just humans. This means that all mammals and birds are now effectively vegetarians (unless their prey are insufficiently cuddly-looking), causing the extinction of larger beasts of prey all over the world.
- Artistic License - Geography: The novella "Rule Golden" contains the line "England is only about 400 miles long, from Land's End to John O'Groats." While the first half of this sentence is roughly true, John O'Groats (as the name implies) is not in England. Scotland adds another 4–500 miles to the length of Britain.
- Benevolent Alien Invasion: Famously subverted in the story "To Serve Man", where the aliens turn out to be not-so-benevolent after all.
- Church of Happyology: Referred to as "Diarrhetics" in one of his short stories.
- Compelling Voice: In Why Do Birds, Ed Stone has a ring that makes his voice work this way. It's less powerful than the standard version, as it only really works as a strong suggestion.
- Conveniently Precise Translation: "To Serve Man" (the actual story, as opposed to the TV adaptation) attempts to get around this by saying that English and Kanamit share certain linguistic quirks and double meanings. (It also depicts the translation as less like codebreaking than the TZ episode; the people in the story use a Kanamit-English phrasebook as a starting point for the translation.)
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Played with horrific psychological subtlety in the short story "Masks". A man has been saved from certain death by having his brain and nervous system woven into an otherwise robotic body. Though he's retained all his memories and sense of self, his lack of human senses and physiology has left him with only one emotion: nauseating disgust and hatred for the organic life that surrounds him.
- Deus Est Machina: The short story "And the Dust Shall Praise Thee" has a weird take on this. The Apocalypse happens... Only there's no one there. So God and his angels goes looking for people, they find none. So they ask the remnants of a computer, who answers "WE WERE HERE, WHERE WERE YOU?"
- Digging to China: In Beyond the Barrier, the protagonist (Professor Gordon Naismith) has to build a machine, which when switched on renders itself (and him, inside it) intangible to its surroundings, so he falls through the Earth and out of the other side (there may have been non-gravitic acceleration involved). Luckily he's picked up by someone before he can start falling back.
- Feghoot: "Eripmav" is a setup for a stake/steak pun.
- Fetus Terrible: The short story "Special Delivery" features a couple discovering that their unborn child is a hyper-intelligent telepathic bastard (in the magnificent, not biological sense), but when he's born the abrupt change in atmosphere turns him into an ordinary infant.
- I'm a Humanitarian: "To Serve Man" is a short story about a race of pig-like aliens called the Kanamit who offer Earth the benefits of their science in exchange for groups of earthlings to visit their planet. The title refers to that of a book which one of the characters managed to obtain. The book is revealed to be . . . a cookbook.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: In the short story "The Analogues", a scientist invents a procedure to create a "better conscience" in the form of hallucinations that prevent you from committing crimes. This raises a lot of questions about the morality of removing free choice, but then it turns out the scientist plans to use it to take over the world, and has already used it on the protagonist to prevent him from stopping the plot.
- Large and in Charge: The short story "The Handler" is centered around a subversion of this trope; the Big Man at a party is just a puppet controlled by the despised pathetic little man crammed inside his chest.
- Life of the Party: The short story "The Handler" is about an enormous charismatic man who is the Life Of A Party, but is also a puppet controlled by the despised pathetic little man crammed inside his chest. When the little man leaves his puppet to take a break, everyone moves away from him and makes nasty comments about him; when, sadly, he returns to the puppet, he becomes the Life of the Party once again.
- Matter Replicator: The discovery of which effectively destroys human civilization in A For Anything.
- Our Vampires Are Different: The short story "Eripmav" features a vampire from a species of sapient plants.
- Sdrawkcab Name: A short story about a plant-based vampire, called "Eripmav" which was defeated by a steak through the heart.
- Solid Gold Poop: In the short story "The Big Pat Boom" (1963), alien visitors to Earth become extremely interested in the artistic value of cow pies, resulting in the eponymous phenomenon. Cow pats become enormously valuable, with collectors paying huge amounts for whirls, swirls and "double whorls". When the boom ends, dealers in cowpies are left with a pile of, well...yeah.
- Synchronization: The story "Rule Golden" about an alien who comes to Earth and uses some Applied Phlebotinum to change all mammals on the planet so that whatever they do to something they also feel. Slap someone and you both feel the pain. Kill someone and you have a heart attack and die. Sit on a hoard of food while other starve around you and feel the pain of their hunger. The title of the story is the reverse of The Golden Rule, attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in the Biblical book of Matthew: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
- Talking to Themself: In Beyond the Barrier a creature that has spent many years hiding inside, and as, a human can no longer shake that side of himself. He is challenged to do what the human would do and not what he wants to do.
- To Serve Man: Played absolutely straight in the story "To Serve Man" which the trope is named after.
- The Wall Around the World: In Hell's Pavement, people in Connecticut (200 years in the future) know nothing of the people in New York, who know nothing of the people in Ohio, and so on. They believe people in the other places are literally monstrous and inhuman. (There are walls between zones.) This happened because supermarket chains used brilliant new brainwashing techniques to make people totally loyal to their brands, and the adherents of different brands formed different zones.
- Vegetarian Vampire: Spoofed in the short story "Eripmav", in which the vegetarian vampire is killed via a steak through the heart.