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Creator / William Tenn

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William Tenn was the pseudonym of Philip Klass (1920-2010), an American science-fiction writer best known for his numerous satirical short stories written in the 1950's and 60's. He also wrote two novels, Of Men and Monsters and A Lamp for Medusa.

Tropes which appear in his stories:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Both his novels started as short stories.
  • Belly Buttonless: In his short story "Childs Play" a rather sad-sack lawyer (from the "present day", i.e., late 1940s) accidentally receives a "Bild-A-Man" kit from the future, an educational toy—-a sort of futuristic home chemistry set—-that allows children to create artificial living creatures, even including duplicate human beings. The protagonist eventually winds up making a human baby, only to realize (after it's too late to do anything about it) that he forgot to give the kid a navel.
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  • Bizarre Alien Sexes: "Venus and the Seven Sexes" features a seven sexed species that passes gametes in a chain: sex "D" receives from sex "C" and transmits to sex "E." The sex of the offspring is determined by the sex of the parent which receives/completes the fully fertilized gamete. One sex is tasked with coordinating the family.
  • Butterfly of Doom: Hilariously lampshaded/satirized in "Brooklyn Project", which opens with the acting secretary to the executive assistant on press relations explaining to a group of journalists that the project to send a probe four billion years into Earth's past — and then two billion, and then one billion and so forth — is perfectly safe, that nothing that happens in the past can change the present. In brief vignettes we see the probe condensing moisture on its outer surface, the probe destroying microorganisms with its weight, the probe crushing tiny trilobites... and the story ends with "the thing that had been the acting secretary to the executive assistant on press relations" spreading his tentacles and explaining that as they can all see, nothing has changed.
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  • Caught in the Ripple: "Brooklyn Project" ends with an official demonstrating that the experiment had changed absolutely nothing... except that the reader is fairly certain that neither him not the audience were Blob Monsters when the demonstration started.
  • City of Spies: In "Lisbon Cubed", Earth itself turns out be a conveniently located neutral site where dozens of alien species secretly run their competing spy rings, spying on each other, while Earth remains unaware of the existence of aliens. The name is a reference to the historical role the city of Lisbon in Portugal played as a spy center during WWII.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: In "The Servant Problem", the ruler of a future Dystopia is a Smug Snake subconsciously controlled by his education minister, an Out-Gambitted Chessmaster subconsciously controlled by another chessmaster psychologist, who in turn was Out-Gambitted and controlled by a junior technician. Things go pear-shaped for this Man Behind The Man Behind The Man Behind The Man when it turns out that he, like everyone else in the world, was conditioned to worship the ruler; this dystopia is evidently now a dog chasing its own tail.
  • For Want of a Nail: In "Brooklyn Project", the "acting secretary to the executive assistant on public relations" describes a government Time Travel experiment to a group of journalists, explaining that some scientists were foolishly concerned that a probe sent into the past might by its very presence inadvertently change the present. But this is a ridiculous notion, of course: the story ends with the journalists dissolving themselves into liquid and flowing up to examine the time travel apparatus, while the acting secretary extends his fifteen purple blobs and exclaims, "Nothing has changed!"
  • From Bad to Worse: "The Liberation of Earth" details how two warring groups of aliens keep trading control of the eponymous planet back and forth, causing more and more damage in the process. When the two species' battle finally shifts to another solar system, they leave behind a handful of ragged human survivors scrabbling on a pear-shaped atmosphere-depleted burnt-out husk.
  • Furry Reminder: In "Null-P", once the Earth is taken over by sentient dogs, the only surviving humans are pets maintained for the purpose of throwing sticks.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: In "Firewater", humanity is being observed by aliens that appear to have god-like powers, and anyone who tries too hard to understand them goes insane. Near the end, it's revealed that the aliens have a similar problem with understanding humans.
  • Humans Are Ugly: In "The Flat-Eyed Monster", a human is accidentally teleported light-years away by some bug-eyed creatures which not only find him absolutely hideous, but terrifyingly so. Those flat eyes, and only two of them. That dry, dry skin, without a trace of slime. The absence of tentacles. And it can't even pmbff! What a monster!
  • Interservice Rivalry: In "Project Hush", the US Army sends a team to establish a small super-secret base on the Moon. As they dig in, they discover to their surprise and horror there's already a similar camouflaged base not far away. Are they Russians, Chinese, Martians? Worse — it's the US Navy!
  • Mr. Smith: Inverted in "Lisbon Cubed": Alfred Smith's actual last name causes some alien spies to think he's the alien spy they were intending to meet, who had, of course, chosen the name Smith as a cover, and had previously occupied the same hotel room as Alfred.
  • Persecution Flip: "Eastward Ho!" is set in a post-nuclear-war future where Native Americans are in power, and the oppressed whites keep fleeing further and further east. Eventually they plan to sail to the land of freedom—Europe.
  • Ridiculously Average Guy: In the short story "Null-P", it is discovered that a man named George Abnego happens to be statistically average in every way. This makes him a celebrity of sorts, and he ends up becoming President.
  • Rite of Passage: In Of Men and Monsters, Eric the Only must steal something from the gigantic monsters, in whose walls his tribe lives, in order to become a man and earn an adult name.
  • Snipe Hunt: In "Errand Boy", warehouse workers sent an overeager boy hanging around to fetch polka-dotted paint. He brought some—wrong color, but polka-dotted. The boy turned out to be a naive 10-year-old time traveler with romantic ideas about 20th century businessmen, not unlike some modern depictions of pirates.
  • Stable Time Loop: "The Discovery of Morniel Mathaway" is built around a stable time loop that involves an art historian meeting the object of his research.
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: "Null-P" describes the rise and (extremely eventual) fall of a future society so afraid of individual variation that all rewards (e.g. scholarships or public office) are given to those whose performance is closest to the exact average of their group.
  • Vichy Earth: In "The Liberation of Earth", the narrator describes how an alien race "liberated" Earth by doing this. Then another alien race liberates Earth from the first aliens, and become the new overlords. Then the first alien race re-liberates Earth, and so on. In the end the whole thing was just a minor skirmish in an on-going galactic war, the aliens take their battle elsewhere and Earth has been reduced to a lop-sided irradiated wasteland.
  • War from Another World: In "The Liberation of Earth", Earth is caught up in an galactic war between two advanced alien species, and nearly destroyed in the process.
  • Women's Mysteries: Discussed but not actually seen in Of Men And Monsters. The protagonist, who is just coming of age himself, wonders what the girl he's attracted to will learn when she becomes an initiate of the the Female Society of his tribe, but knows he'll never be allowed to find out.