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I'm trying to identify a science fiction story which I believe was written sometime before 1960. It was probably a "novella" -- dozens of pages in length, but definitely not published as its own little book. (I read it in an anthology, the title of which has also slipped my mind.)

In the first several pages, the following premise is established:

The protagonist is a wealthy man, living in what appears to be a standard-issue "modern American city" ("modern" by the standards of the mid-Twentieth Century). In recent years, he has had incredible good fortune, consistently! This was not true in the first twenty-odd years of his life, but then something changed dramatically, so that now he seems to lead the proverbial "charmed life."

For instance, we see the man reminisce to his trusted chauffeur about a time when he was riding the rails from one city to another, basically a hobo who couldn't afford to pay for train tickets, and then a couple of guys started to threaten him. Suddenly, he says, several other men (complete strangers) arrived on the scene, pounded the would-be muggers until they were unconscious, and then the rescuers disappeared as quickly as they had arrived, without even bothering to introduce themselves or say "you're welcome!" to the protagonist.

Since then, he's had further incredible luck -- the Midas touch, you might say. He found a good job, he somehow started accumulating wealth, and now it seems as if every time he invests in a stock, its value goes up pretty soon. (Or sometimes, if the stock doesn't go up, the man's brokerage house apologetically tells him that there was a silly clerical error, and someone bought or sold the wrong thing in his name, with the happy result that his investment portfolio still made money from the actual fluctuations of the market over the next couple of days.)

The protagonist has become highly suspicious about so many incredible coincidences which always seem to work in his favor. He hypothesizes that there is some sort of vast conspiracy which is dedicated to spying on him and keeping him as happy as possible . . . but, for some reason, the conspirators don't dare tell him exactly what they are trying to accomplish, and why! Instead, they apparently want him to just assume that everything happens in his favor "by accident."

As the plot progresses, it is revealed to the reader that these suspicions are right on target. The protagonist, or something lurking within him, is basically a godlike entity which is capable of reshaping the entire universe on a whim, but of course the protagonist is not consciously aware of this potential. The conspiracy has somehow become aware of the situation, and is frantically trying to keep him soothed so that he won't get psychologically agitated and destroy the status quo of the world as we know it. Unfortunately, they've seriously overdone the "protect him from stress" bit, and now the very fact of his nonstop good luck is making him feel increasingly stressed!

A note: The story in question definitely is not Robert A. Heinlein's "They," nor is it Charles L. Harness's "The New Reality." (For that matter, it just now struck me that the basic situation bears some resemblance to the premise of the much later Jim Carrey movie "The Truman Show," although Truman did not possess superhuman powers.)

  • I think The Truman Show was more based on Philip K. Dick's Time Out Of Joint. – Cactus Jul 1 '16 at 8:21
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I'm trying to identify a science fiction story which I believe was written sometime before 1960. It was probably a "novella" -- dozens of pages in length, but definitely not published as its own little book.

"Tonight the Sky Will Fall!", a novella by Daniel F. Galouye; originally published in Imagination, May 1952, which is available at the Internet Archive (click here for download options); reprinted in the 1974 anthology Space Opera (Brian W. Aldiss, ed.), which has appeared under various covers. Galouye's two novellas, "Tonight the Sky Will Fall!" and its 1955 sequel "The Day the Sun Died" (in Imagination, December 1955, also at the Internet Archive, click here for download options), were incorporated into the 1973 novel The Infinite Man, which has a Wikipedia page.

For instance, we see the man reminisce to his trusted chauffeur about a time when he was riding the rails from one city to another, basically a hobo who couldn't afford to pay for train tickets, and then a couple of guys started to threaten him. Suddenly, he says, several other men (complete strangers) arrived on the scene, pounded the would-be muggers until they were unconscious, and then the rescuers disappeared as quickly as they had arrived, without even bothering to introduce themselves or say "you're welcome!" to the protagonist.

He's telling the story to his secretary, not his chauffeur:

His eyes grew thoughtful. "I'm not just imagining there's something mysterious going on." He crossed his arms and leaned on the table. "I began to suspect it when I was travelling to New York after I'd been informed of the inheritance. I had no money and was hopping rails on the way over . . . Almost didn't get here. There was that little whistle stop incident, where a train pulled on a siding and I got in an argument with a couple of drunks in the rail-yard.

"It wouldn't have taken them a minute to take care of me with those broken beer bottles. They were closing in, swinging, when three other bums appeared from around a boxcar. I didn't have to strike a blow. Those three laid the others out cold. But I didn't get a chance to thank them; they disappeared too fast.

"Ever since then, things have happened that way . . . Always somebody appearing from nowhere to hold on to my arm when it looked like I might step into a stream of traffic . . . If I go out on the yacht and the water gets a little choppy, boats spring up from nowhere . . .

"But all the unrelated incidents didn't make sense until I started putting them together a few weeks ago. Now I see they all fit into a pattern—of someone or some group trying their best to protect me in every conceivable way. Physically, economically, any way you can think of . . .

He found a good job, he somehow started accumulating wealth, and now it seems as if every time he invests in a stock, its value goes up pretty soon. (Or sometimes, if the stock doesn't go up, the man's brokerage house apologetically tells him that there was a silly clerical error, and someone bought or sold the wrong thing in his name, with the happy result that his investment portfolio still made money from the actual fluctuations of the market over the next couple of days.)

"And you can't say I achieved success because of a preponderance of brains," he offered. "You know as well as I how much luck had to do with everything. . . . I would have dropped over fifty thousand on the market just last week if our brokers hadn't made an error in jotting down instructions."

The protagonist, or something lurking within him, is basically a godlike entity which is capable of reshaping the entire universe on a whim, but of course the protagonist is not consciously aware of this potential.

He sat erect again. Nothing was making sense to him. Nothing at all. He wanted to pinch himself to see whether he was not in some fantastic dreamland . . . But a glance outside at the eerie panorama of destruction served the same purpose.

"Tarl," Charles continued. "That thing—that intellect within you—is the only thing that really exists. Nothing else exists. Not even space. Not even time. Not even matter. Only that intellect—that intangible, bodiless power of reasoning—is real! That and that alone is the universe—the entire universe. All that is, exists only by virtue of its imagination!"

Tarl was staring dully ahead again. He shook his head. "I don't understand. I can't grasp it. I must be going crazy!"

The lurking quiet outside still flaunted its imponderable threat and the sky was lighted by the fires which were spreading through the city.

"Our directors," Marcella got control of herself, "believe the entire universe, even you and your active mind, is but part of the thought pattern of this—this intellect. They believe this entity, over an indefinite period, created everything as we know it now—in an act that was motivated by loneliness . . .

"Possibly it created you first, or one of your ancestors. If it was you first, then it not only created everything as we know it, but it also created a history for the universe and a racial and individual memory for every creature in it.

"If it created one of your ancestors first, then the intellect progressed down the line of descendants until its host body is now you.

"After creation, it enjoyed its universe and its world awhile, then lapsed into a state of suspended mental activity. It relegated to its subconscious the task of controlling all the objects and actions of all the beings in its universe."

The conspiracy has somehow become aware of the situation, and is frantically trying to keep him soothed so that he won't get psychologically agitated and destroy the status quo of the world as we know it. Unfortunately, they've seriously overdone the "protect him from stress" bit, and now the very fact of his nonstop good luck is making him feel increasingly stressed!

"But is it awakening? What's causing it to stir?"

"Over-caution," Charles shrugged.

"The directors have been stepping on one another's heels," the girl said rapidly. "The suspicion you felt seeped through into your subconscious—into the subconscious of the intellect. The thing was prodded, stung. Not one time, but several times. Each time it was disturbed, an impulse from its subconscious got through into the order it was sustaining. And each time chaos resulted. Finally, they have almost, if not entirely, awakened it."

"And?" He tried to pull the words from the girl's mouth.

But it was Charles who broke the silence. "And this is it! This is the end!"

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