The Counterfeit Man and other science fiction stories

by Alan E. Nourse
Reviewed date: 2020 May 15
224 pages
cover art

Not his best work, but I did particularly enjoy An Ounce of Cure and The Meeting of the Board. Also OK were The Link and The Canvas Bag.

The Counterfeit Man
On the return trip from the first mission to Ganymede, Dr. Crawford realizes the crew has been infiltrated. One crew member has been replaced by a shapeshifting alien from Ganymede. By a clever ruse, Dr. Crawford identifies the culprit. He ratchets up the stress and anxiety of the crew, and the counterfeit man is the only one who doesn't get indigestion. It seems the alien was able to duplicate the outer form but not all the inner workings of the human body.

In a twist, it turns out Dr. Crawford knows that there were two counterfeit men aboard the spaceship. The second counterfeit man is Captain Jaffe. But when Crawford goes to confront him, the alien kills Crawford and takes his form.

The Canvas Bag
Joe Baker, a drifter, finds a nice girl--Jeannie--and decides to settle down and make a life with her. However, when he proposes, she questions him about his past. He can't remember exactly when he started drifting, but as he starts to think back, he realizes he's been drifting for a hundred and fifty years. He's under a spell and cannot stop being on the move. He tries to stay for the girl, but he can't--so she comes with him.

An Ounce of Cure
James Wheatley's toe has been hurting, so he sees his doctor. The doctor sends him to a specialist, who passes him off to another specialist. Each specialist focuses on his own area of expertise but nobody is willing to listen to the patient and fix the poor man's toe. (This reminds me much of my wife's experience with specialists, who each diagnosed her with something, tried to treat her, and then lost interest when their cure or treatment didn't fix her problems.) In the end, the man goes to see a witch doctor.

The Dark Door
Harry Scott thinks that he's being hunted by not-men--beings that looks like men, but are not men. Beings that move in the fourth dimension. Dr. Webber and Dr. Manellli at the Hoffman Center think he's on to something, and figuring out what Harry Scott knows--or thinks he knows--might explain the rise in psychiatric disorders that is becoming an epidemic. So they push. But it's a trap. The whole thing is a lure for the not-men to capture Dr. Webber. I think. This story actually got pretty unclear toward the end, so I'm uncertain whether the not-men actually existed, or maybe this was all in Dr. Webber's head, and I don't know what, precisely, Dr. Manelli's role in all this was. Not a satisfactory story.

The Meeting of the Board
The employees of Robling Titanium Corporation have taken control of the company by buying up the stock, and their appointed board chairman has run the company into the ground by cutting the R&D budget to pay for shareholder dividends. So Walter Towne, a company Vice-President, convinces the rest of the management to go on strike. With management off the job, work grinds to a halt. Eventually the shareholders--that is, the employees--fire the Chairman of the Board and agree to let the management run the company properly.

A clever short story, one of those circular stories about a traveler from a parallel world who is trying to get his story heard, so he tells it to a writer, who starts writing the story you've just been reading. Not a terribly original idea, but competently written.

My Friend Bobby
Jimmy is five and his best friend Bobby is five. Bobby is a dog. Jimmy can hear thoughts, which terrifies his mother, so his mother treats him cruelly. This eventually precipitates a violent confrontation between Jimmy and his parents, and Bobby attacks Jimmy's parents to protect him. They abandon Jimmy.

The Link
On an idyllic jungle planet, a peaceful society of artists prepares to flee when they spot the approaching Hunters. For millennia the Hunters have been chasing them, and always they flee, from planet to planet, sometimes staying for a few thousand years, sometimes a few hundred, but always the Hunters find them, and always they flee.

This time, two citizens decide to stay behind, hoping to speak to the Hunters and see if maybe they've changed in the millennia since the two races last met.

The Hunters have not changed. They are as cruel and destructive as always. The two make beautiful music for the Hunters, who respond by torturing them. But the seed has been planted--the link has been forged. Through the music, something beautiful and good has been awakened in the Hunters, and someday--although perhaps eons hence--the two races will find a common ground.

Image of the Gods
The colonists on Baron IV eke out a living--just barely--with help from the indigenous Dusties. The colonists don't know why the Dusties help them, but without them, the people would have perished long ago. When a ship arrives from Earth informing the Baron IV colony that their quota is being raised, and that failure to increase their shipments of good to Earth will earn them destruction, the colonists decide to fight back. The Dusties join the fight--and later, take the colonists away from their town to live in the hill caves--where the colonists see that the Dusties have created altars and statues--they worship humans like gods. (At least I think that's the point of the story.)

The Expert Touch
Chris Taber wants to quit. But he's the most important participant in the research program at the Hoffman Center, so Dr. Palmer uses some slick reverse psychology--the expert touch--to convince him to stay and participate. The final experiment is excruciatingly painful for Taber, but he makes the breakthrough. He sees, He understands. Eagerly, Palmer asks him to reveal the knowledge. But Chris Taber understands a little too much. He knows how Palmer manipulated him, so he refuses to divulge the hard-earned information. (What, precisely, this crucial bit of information is, well, that's not the point of the story. It has something to do with Nourse's bugaboo, the origin of psi-powers and insanity, I think.)

Second Sight
Amy Ballantine is a subject in a research project to study her psi abilities. She's got enormous psi powers, but the twist ending is that due to her psi faculties, she never developed her other senses: she's deaf and blind.

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