Looking for Something’ by Frank Herbert

Aliens that only one person can see, as the rest of humanity is under a hypnotic illusion of normalcy. Aliens with hypnotic powers. Aliens who see humanity as only a food source.

Its a common enough story line. ”Looking for Something’ by Frank Herbert is a short story of stage hypnotist who discovers that he shares an unusual vision with one of his subjects and investigates it.

Description: It was just an average stage hypnosis show, and an average (as is excellent hypnotic) subject being put through a series of standard stage hypnosis routines. But, at the end, something strange happens:

He wound up to the finale. “When I snap my fingers you will awaken,” he said. “You will feel completely refreshed as though after a sound sleep. Ten seconds after you awaken you will imagine yourself on a crowded streetcar where no one will give you a seat. You will be extremely tired. Finally, you will ask the fat man opposite you to give you his seat. He will do so and you will sit down. Do you understand?”

Miss Walker nodded her head.

You will remember nothing of this when you awaken,” Paul said.

He raised his hand to snap his fingers…

It was then that Paul Marcus received his mind-jarring idea. He held his hand up, fingers ready to snap, thinking about this idea, until he heard the audience stirring restlessly behind him. Then he shook his head and snapped his fingers. Miss Walker awakened slowly, looked around, got up, and exactly ten seconds later began the streetcar hallucinations. She performed exactly as commanded, again awakened, and descended confusedly from the stage to more applause and whistles. It should have been gratifying.

But from the moment he received the idea, the performance could have involved someone other than Paul Marcus for all of the attention he gave it.

In creating a hypnotic illusion for his subject, Paul momentarily shares that illusion, and when his subject approaches him backstage, her disclosure of the completeness of the illusion causes him to want to investigate further. That investigation reveals she is already under a hypnotic command to preceive reality in a pre-programmed way and also has blocks to keep her from revealing the reality behind the illusion. When he continues the investigation, an alien intelligence intervenes and re-applies the hypnotic illusion to the hypnotist as well as the subject, ending what could have been the end of the alien control.

History: ‘Looking For Something’ was Herbert’s first professional science fiction sale, to Startling Stories in 1952. It has also been reprinted in the story collection “The Best of Frank Herbert”.

Commentary: This story is comparable to Ray Nelson’s ‘Eight O’Clock in the Morning’ although Nelson’s story was published almost 10 years later. Both involve hypnotic control over a placid human population, although here, the alien purpose is to harvest the secretions of a gland that gives the alien race immortality. Through selective breeding the gland is now externalized, making extraction easier, and humanity is subjected to increased fears and tensions, increasing glandular output. Reading between the lines here, the aliens are not only supressing humanity to keep the source stable but causing much of the world’s problems to enhance their gland farming efforts.

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