Story identification request. The title says most of it. It's a short story I believe I read in a science fiction anthology. People have some Eastern-ish or mystic belief system or something, and the protagonist won't buy it. I think he's a reductionist. In the end he's in some sort of hell that's somehow related to his skepticism. Any ideas?

  • Sounds interesting. For those of us who haven't studied Taoism or metaphysics, could you describe what the character's hell is like? By the way, about how long ago did you read it?
    – user14111
    Nov 3, 2015 at 2:20
  • I think I read it in the late 90s. I don't remember anything about that hell except it's a place of intense psychological pain, and that pain comes from insisting on reductionism, or whatever that character clings to, or from rejecting the serenity of the other belief system in favor of cold rationality. Or something like that? I'm not sure. I don't think it's necessarily the same Hell as described by Taoism, if Taoism indeed has such a thing. Nov 3, 2015 at 2:38
  • sounds like a spin on the CS Lewis story, the great divorce (maybe that jogs someone's memory)
    – Jim B
    Nov 3, 2015 at 4:45

1 Answer 1


I wonder if you're thinking of Kuttner and Moore's "Rite of Passage", a 1958 short story about a man who lives in a world where everyone believes in magic (good and bad); the protagonist is a person whose job is to curse people working for other corporations (it's a quasi-feudal society with corporations taking the place of feudal lords), but he has learned enough of the real history of his society to know that what he's doing has a purely psychological effect (enhanced perhaps with a few physical dirty tricks) - you announce that someone is "cursed" (and maybe slip him a drug to make him feel sick) and let his mind do the work of making him miserable.

Since he knows magic is all psychological, he believes that he should be immune to it all, but he's grown up in that society, and subconsciously all the symbolism of magic still works on him.

This article has further details:

Lloyd Cole is the Black President for the Communications Corporation. Kuttner and Moore have imagined a future where people believe in magic, and Cole is the president of black magic. Corporations also have white presidents.

Here’s the kicker, magic isn’t real, but everyone believes in it. Cole’s job is to cast evil spells under contract for his clients. “Rite of Passage” is about how Cole wants to get revenge on a man who stole his wife by appearing to kill him for a client, thus providing a cover-up for his own intentions.

The story has been anthologised a few times, notably in Detour to Otherness (1985)

  • Thanks for the edits
    – Andrew
    Oct 29, 2023 at 0:13
  • 1
    Hey I didn't see this until now. This isn't the one, I'm sorry to say. There was no corporation or really any kind of corporate life for the characters in this story, as I recall. Also, I'm pretty certain it was an anthology of (then) recent-ish works. But I'm grateful that anyone cared to try to help. Dec 15, 2023 at 22:59
  • Hope you find it - I'd like to read it too
    – Andrew
    Dec 15, 2023 at 23:21

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