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Creator / Damon Knight

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"One of the great rewards of a writer's life is that it lets you read all the books you want to without feeling guilty."

Damon Francis Knight (September 19, 1922 April 15, 2002) 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.
  • The Ageless: Humanity is this in the far future, with accompanying Flight and Healing Factor — with the exception of the Planner Dio, in the novella Dio/The Dying Man. He's a brilliant architect on his way to find out what mortality is like, and it becomes reflected in his work.
  • 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 4500 miles to the length of Britain.
  • Artistic License Linguistics: "Rule Golden" has a BBC news announcer say "In Commons today...". But this is an Americanism; a real Brit would at the very minimum say "in the Commons", and a real BBC announcer would most likely say "in the House of Commons", which after all takes only about half a second longer to say.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: Famously subverted in the story "To Serve Man", where the aliens turn out to be not-so-benevolent after all.
  • 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: The twist of "To Serve Man" depends on the eponymous phrase having an exact equivalent in the alien language, with the same ambiguity of meaning. The story attempts to get around this by saying that English and Kanamit share certain linguistic quirks and double meanings.
  • Creator's Culture Carryover: "Rule Golden" has a BBC news reporter say "In Commons today..." But omitting the article like that is an Americanism; any real Brit would at least say "in the Commons", and a BBC announcer would more likely say "in the House of Commons", which after all takes only about half a second longer.
  • 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 transplanted into a 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.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: In Beyond the Barrier, there is a triple. As part of a long game plan a dangerous creature called a Zug implants himself in the human hunting it. Controlling the hunter, the Zug goes back in time and finds a crashed bomber with its crew dead. It selects the body that most resembles its host and takes all of its ID, then disposes of the body. It goes on to live that person's life, unaware of the deception, until it gets the chance to use it in the far distant future.
  • 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. When God and his angels goes looking for people, the only thing they find is message left behind by humanity: "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.
  • The Ditz: Katha in Dio.
  • Dumb Blonde: Inverted in Dio (also called The Dying Man). Claire, the player who falls in love with Dio, is blonde, but is more thoughtful and introspective than most people in her class. Her brunette friend Katha is a complete airhead.
  • 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, but when he's born the abrupt change in atmosphere turns him into an ordinary infant.
  • Healing Factor: In Dio or The Dying Man, humanity has genetically engineered itself into drop-dead-gorgeous immortality. Regeneration is part of the package — injuries hurt, and you try to avoid them, but you're okay. It's when the lead character has this fail on him (along with suddenly losing the ability to levitate), that he knows something's really wrong.
  • 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 manages 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 actually 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.
  • Pig Man: The alien Kanamit in "To Serve Man" are described as looking like bipedal pigs.
  • 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: Trope Namer.
  • 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. 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.
  • Video Phone: Dio/The Dying Man takes place in a far-off almost-utopian future. We have videophones, still called phones. They appear to be stand-alone consoles with built-in light-up phonebooks where you choose the sector, group and name of the person you're calling. Operators have been replaced by robots called autosecs. Because most people move around a lot, frequent updates of your registration are important.
  • We Will All Fly in the Future: In Dio (or The Dying Man), humans have genetically engineered themselves into gorgeous, model-quality (or better) immortals who all have the ability to levitate. This ability is a plot point in the first couple of pages, where the title character suddenly loses it (in midair).
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: In the far-off future of The Dying Man/Dio, humanity has engineered itself into immortal, Olympic/model quality perfection, including regeneration of injured body parts. Dio finds out he's going to die and has lost all his immunities. Since the old diseases were never eradicated, he's lucky all he catches is a cold.