‘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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