Follow TV Tropes


Creator / William Tenn

Go To

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.
  • Animal Is the New Man: Null P sees dogs take over the Earth. Humans still exist, but they have given up civilization and it isn't even clear if they are sapient. They are adopted as pets by the dogs for the purpose of throwing sticks, and later go effectively extinct.
  • 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: 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 journalists dissolving themselves into liquid and flowing up to examine the time travel apparatus, while the Acting Secretary extends his fifteen purple blobs and assures them that nothing has changed.
  • 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 a 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.
  • Fantastic Religious Weirdness: On Venus, Have We Got a Rabbi has an Interstellar Neo-Zionist Congress debating whether aliens can be Jewish.
  • 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.
  • Night of the Living Mooks: In Down Among the Dead Men, humanity is running out of resources and recruits for a Bug War that's been going for decades. All women have been removed from administrative duties to breed soldiers, and everything is recycled including protoplasm from dead soldiers. The early 'zombies' were only good as Undead Laborers for menial tasks and turned out to be very bad for morale. The new models are as smart as any human, but the protagonist still isn't happy about being assigned to command a squad of them. Turns out they're not happy about him either, as they've picked up on the attitudes of 'normal' people towards them.
  • No Navel, Novel Birth: In 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.
  • 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 send an overeager boy who's 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.
  • War from Another World: In Liberation of Earth, the narrator describes how an alien race "liberated" Earth, 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 which finally shifts to another solar system, leaving behind a handful of ragged human survivors scrabbling for survival on a pear-shaped, atmosphere-depleted, burnt-out husk of a planet.
  • 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 Female Society of his tribe, but knows he'll never be allowed to find out.