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Literature / Sam Hall

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"Sam Hall" is a science fiction novelette by Poul Anderson, first published in Astounding Science Fiction in August 1953.

In a future society where citizens' lives are monitored by a vast computer network, Thornberg, feeling rebellious because of his nephew's arrest and upcoming sanctions on an already oppressed populace, decides to create a fictitious rebel named after a drinking song. Sam Hall, as he's known, quickly becomes a bogeyman to the government, who expend an increasing amount of effort trying and failing to find him. Thornberg's private rebellion soon grows and gains supporters, and soon the collapse of the dystopian society is imminent—all because of one man's effort.

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The story can be read for free on the Internet Archive.


This story contains examples of:

  • Amalgamated Individual: A secretly rebellious functionary involved in inputting data to a Master Computer covering events throughout a near-future totalitarian USA creates a fictional rebel/terrorist named "Sam Hall", and falsely ascribes various crimes and incidents to him at random. The fictitious Sam Hall ends up being a folk hero and inspiring a revolution.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The government keeps tabs on where its citizens are from day to day, which drives them crazy when they can't locate Sam Hall.
  • Dystopia: The story is set in a dystopian society where everything about everyone is recorded in a massive national database.
  • Dystopia Is Hard: The dystopian government collapses because of all the resources they expend trying to track down the titular malcontent who managed to get cross-referenced with a police report. The effort they expend to track him down increases as every effort they expend to find him fails, and the reason they can't find him is because he doesn't actually exist.
  • Hired to Hunt Yourself:
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    • Thornberg is told to look into the possibility of the rebels managing to cause a kind of mass hallucination to explain Sam Hall's presence.
    • Sorensen turns out to have been a rebel all along, sending the preposterous request for the mass hallucination to Thornberg to see how he'd react.
  • I Call It "Vera": The central computer monitoring everyone is named Matilda.
  • Invented Individual: Sam Hall is completely fictitious, which is why the government can't track him down.
  • Room 101: The story opens with the protagonist's nephew being arrested and sent to a Room 101; the protagonist must hide that they were related so his son won't be troubled.
  • Shout-Out: The story is named after an old song of the same name. Four verses are sung throughout the novelette.
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