A for Anything: Former Title: The People Maker [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Damon Knight
eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: What would happen if someone invented a machine that could create an exact duplicate of anything? That is the simple but remarkable premise of Damon Knight's classic 1959 novel, A for Anything. "The Gismo," as the machine is known, seems like it will end poverty and need forever. But of course, things are not that simple. Like any truly great work of science fiction, Knight's novel boldly pursues the ramifications of his premise. What will people do if there is no longer any need to work for anything? What happens if this device is spread carelessly throughout the world (it can even duplicate itself!). Finally, there is the supreme and most chilling of questions: what happens if you try to duplicate a human being?
A for Anything is a classic work of science fiction, but it considers questions that are as relevant and compelling today as they were fifty years ago, perhaps more so. Like most of us, Knight watches the mind-boggling technological advancements of our time with a mixture of awe and alarm, and wonders whether we are really in control of the things we are creating. Knight has put his finger on the pulse of our modern sensibility and, mixed with his truly remarkable imagination, created a novel that is gripping, thought-provoking and impossible to put down.
eBook Publisher: RosettaBooks
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2002
17 Reader Ratings:
A retired bank vice-president named Harry Breitfeller, who lived in a comfortable duplex in Santa Monica with his wife and other relatives, stepped out on the cement porch a little after nine one morning to pick up the mail. There were half a dozen envelopes, mostly bills, in the mailbox, and a whacking big cardboard carton on the porch under it.
Breitfeller picked up the carton, thinking it must be something his wife had ordered, but saw that his own name was on the label.
There was no return address. According to the postmark, the box had been mailed late the previous afternoon in Clearwater, which is about thirty-four miles northeast of Los Angeles.
Breitfeller could not think of anyone he knew in Clear-water. Remembering stories he had heard about bombs in the mail, he shook the box gingerly. It seemed too light to have a bomb in it, and it rattled.
He took the box inside and set it down, pulled up a chair, and put his half-smoked cigar carefully in an ashtray.
His wife, Madge, came in from the kitchen drying her hands. "What's that?" she asked.
"Don't know." Breitfeller had his pocket knife open, and was slitting the brown paper tape that sealed the carton.
"Well, who's it from?"
"Don't know," said Breitfeller again. He turned the two halves of the box top carefully back. Underneath was a little crumpled newspaper, and under that, something made of wood. Cottage lamps, was his first thought, but they were unstained and there were no shades, and no light sockets.
He pulled the two objects out of the carton and set them upright on the table. His wife looked over his shoulder, and so did her sister Ruth who had just followed her in from the kitchen. The objects were two identical wooden crosses. They were about a foot and a half high. Each one stood on a thick wooden base, and had some kind of wiring attached to the upright and crossarm. On the base of each one was a type-written paper, stapled down, which read:
THIS IS A GISMO IT IS A DUPLICATING DEVICE-- IT WILL DUPLICATE ANYTHING-- EVEN ANOTHER GISMO. TO OPERATE, SIMPLY ATTACH A SAMPLE OF WHATEVER YOU WISH TO COPY TO THE LEFT HAND ARM OF THE GISMO, AS SHOWN.
(There was a careful, pen sketch in the margin.)
THEN PRESS THE SWITCH, AND A COPY WILL APPEAR ATTACHED TO THE RIGHT HAND ARM OF THE GISMO. WARNING: DO NOT ALLOW THE OBJECT BEING COPIED TO COME IN CONTACT WITH ANYTHING ELSE.
Breitfeller read this through twice in silence, ignoring the heavy breathing of the two women leaning on his shoulders. He was a pink-faced man, rather popeyed and without very much chin, but stronger than he looked.
He inspected the two crosses unhurriedly, up-ending them to see if there was anything on the bottom, then examining each part of the wiring.
"It's a trick," said Ruth over his shoulder. "A silly trick."
"Maybe," said Breitfeller, putting his cigar back in his mouth. He saw that the wires stapled to the crossarms of the two Gismos were really loops, and that the curicus little metal-and-glass blocks which hung from them were suspended by these loops.
There was just the one circuit, that looped over to one of the little metal-glass blocks on the left side and then looped over to the other on the right side. The rest of it, attached to the upright, was nothing but a pair of dry cells and an ordinary light switch.
Breitfeller thought he could build one of these himself, in half an hour, except for the little glass-metal blocks. He had never seen one of those before.
He leaned over the table and peered closer. The glass was a curious-looking cloudy stuff, possibly not glass but a plastic, and it was coated with copper on both sides. On the bottom side of each block there was a small copper hook. It looked to Breitfeller as if the glass or whatever it was would be plenty to insulate that hook from the feeble current that would go through the loop of wire: so the Gismo couldn't actually do anything, much less what it was advertised to do. But when he looked at those little metal-glass-metal sandwiches, he wasn't so sure.
His older son, Pete, came in saying, "Dad, I'm going to take the car over to Glendale this morning, okay? Whatcha got?"
"Gismos," said Breitfeller wryly, around his cigar. He was frowning at the nearest cross. You closed the switch here; the current went up here, through these little contacts, and around here, past the left-hand glass-metal block but not through it, and then over here, doing the same to the right-hand glass-metal block, and then back to the dry cells. It seemed to him that nothing could possibly happen if you tried it. His fingers began to itch.
"Hey," said Pete, reaching, "let me see that."
Breitfeller forestalled him. "Keep your hands off," he said indistinctly.
"Dad, I know all about that electronics jazz."
"Not about this electronics jazz, you don't." Breitfeller got up with a cross in each hand.
"Harry, what are you going to do?" his wife asked, looking alarmed.
"I think you ought to call the police," said Ruth, behind her.
Breitfeller said, "I'm going out behind the garage. By myself." He departed, past his brother-in-law Mack, who was just up and looked half asleep, but had curiosity enough to say "What's that?" as Breitfeller went by.
He went out through the kitchen and the back porch, banging the screen door behind him, and walked across the yard to the alley.
There was about three feet of space between the side of his garage and the fence, and nothing across the alley but the back of a brewery warehouse, so Breitfeller figured that if anything should go wrong, there would not be too much damage.
He set both the Gismos down carefully on the stack of scrap lumber and stared at them. "TO OPERATE, SIMPLY ATTACH A SAMPLE OF WHATEVER YOU WISH TO COPY..." There was a little coil of bare copper wire wound handily around the copper hook under the left-hand cross-arm; that was one detail that half convinced him. The other thing was the metal-glass blocks; another, now that he thought of it, was the grain of the wood, which looked identical in the two crosses, and the fourth thing, the one that really made his heart beat faster, was just the fact that there were two Gismos and not one.
Because if it was a gag, why should there be two? But if it was real, then with two Gismos you could make a third one, a fourth, a fifth...
Well, you never got anything without taking a little risk.
Breitfeller, with a sardonic gleam in his eye, fumbled for his money clip and withdrew a one-dollar bill. He uncoiled the copper wire, wound it around the folded bill, and carefully attached it to the little hook on the left-hand side of the Gismo. He slowly put out his middle finger to the switch. Slowly he pressed it down.
He blinked. Swinging from the right-hand arm of the Gismo, as if it had been there all the time, was a second, folded, green one-dollar bill.
"Lord God Almighty," said Breitfeller, fervently.
Copyright © 1959 by Damon Knight