I think I read this in middle school to high school, which places it in the mid to late 90s. It was in English. The protagonist was realizing that a particular office building, I think in the United States, had an unusually high fatality rate. He explained the concept of "sick building syndrome", a real-life condition where people who work in large buildings have a higher illness rate with the reason ranging from bad HVAC systems spreading mold and bacteria to fluorescent lighting causing our brains to not have normal chemical levels to the increased exposure to other human beings who feel forced to come to work even when sick because they can't afford to miss work. As he explores various mundane factors that might lead into the high rate of sickness and death, he starts to consider the possibility that the architecture was actively malevolent and, near the end of the story, as he tries to write up his results, he finds that the computer breaks down, pens break in his hand, etc, with the implication being that the building doesn't want him to warn others, and culminating with him trying to escape the building but finding himself feeling less and less well.

I don't remember if the protagonist survives. I've thought enough about how it might have ended that I have distinct memories of him surviving and of him dying in the process of trying to escape. I don't think that ghosts, curses, or magic were seriously considered by the protagonist. At first, he thinks it's something mundane. By the end of the story, he's convinced there's something more, that the building has evolved its malevolence towards humanity, or that some confluence of factors just means that the problem will keep getting worse. I don't think there was any sort of real antagonist behind it all, no evil artificial intelligence, vengeful first, sadistic architect, etc, just something that happened as a result of the building design.

Just to clear off a few likely candidates, it was an office building as I remember it, not a hotel, and the focus was on a general antagonism to humanity, not targeting any one person. Objects didn't fly around on their own. It was more of an... entropic attack, I guess. Things just didn't work right. People were ill more often, basically dying of "natural causes" instead of accidents. And it was definitely in an office building of some sort, of a modern build with multiple floors.

  • Is this different from a haunted building? Is a "psychic residue" different from a ghost? – user14111 Apr 12 '18 at 23:15
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    shrug I just remember there being no clear ghosts or magic. There's never a clear "this is the villain" moment and I think he still thinks there's a scientific explanation by the end. – FuzzyBoots Apr 13 '18 at 1:06
  • I think I may have read this (or a similar story). Was it set in a skyscraper and a big computer controlled the heating and air-con? – DannyMcG Apr 13 '18 at 5:17
  • Gridiron by Philip Kerr ? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gridiron_(novel) – Pat Dobson Apr 13 '18 at 11:05
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    Looking at the 'Gridiron' by Philip Kerr suggestion and I think that's the one I was trying to recall. Clearly it's not the book you are searching for – DannyMcG Apr 13 '18 at 20:16

I am unconvinced that it isn’t “Inanimate Objection” by H. Chandler Elliott. I just reread it also in The Mammoth Book of Science Fiction, and I do see similarities. None of the “accidents” were limited to the “institutional” patient rooms or medical tables of the institution. They were all involving office and home tools, like coffee pots.

Mental institutions have offices. They do! (One might even say they have OFFICES.) The doctors in the story used the OFFICES at work and that is where the mishaps mishappened:

“I don't think there was any sort of real antagonist behind it all, no evil artificial intelligence, vengeful first, sadistic architect, etc, just something that happened as a result of the building design.”

He found Major Burnside's fantasy distraction…. So he collected instances: The dollar pencil that dropped on its rubber and vaulted into the plumbless depths of a hot-air register; the tine rip in the sleeve of his white hacket that snagged on the tap of a coffee-urn, causing him to slop a cup of scalding coffee over trousers and ankle; the page of a vital report that blew off his worktable and slid craftily behind a newspaper in the wastebasket; and a dozen more commonplace acts of malice by familiar objects.

“and the focus was on a general antagonism to humanity, not targeting any one person. Objects didn't fly around on their own. It was more of an... entropic attack, I guess. Things just didn't work right.”

“Look here sir,” he began. “Gathering data is the fist step, but you’ve got to have some general theory. Ruling out literal Gremlins, why should objects be actively hostile?” The Major looked up from a soldering job, with a twinkle: “If I give you a theory, will you be the least bit more persuaded? All right: why do we like organization, control, applied power?” Carl reflected: “Oh . . . I suppose it’s the nature of life to extend itself by organization of the environment – tools and so on.” “Excellent. Well, the mass of the Universe behaves in exactly the opposite way – disorganizing, devolving. Any reason why this much vaster process shouldn’t have – well, a sort of counter-life? Well, then, to it, our organizing activities would be equivalent to fires, contrary winds, rust. Up to a few thousand years ago, the effects of life were trivial – a little photosynthesis and burrowdigging that mattered no more to counter-life than geological erosion matters to us. But now man is organizing matter and energy on an expanding scale – a regular epidemic of disasters to counter-life. So, of course, it resists and fights back.” “But how does it work?” he asked. I mean, we know the laws of mechanics, and they don’t leave scope for free action.” “Oh, don’t they? We operate by chemistry, and yet we feel we have plenty of freedom.”

“People were ill more often, basically dying of "natural causes" instead of accidents.”

After the main protagonist’s going through so many “accidents” trying to help his very sick wife, all in his office and at home that they took several pages to describe, as he slipped on the blood from his stepping on broken glass that very nearly sent him over his bathroom window sill,

Next morning, the paper said: EIGHTEEN DIE IN FREAK STORM. There were accounts of linemen slipping to death, highway crashes, frozen tramps, fractured skulls.

  • Unfortunately, what matters is that the person who asked the question is convinced otherwise. "I did indeed read the Archive.org copy and indeed, it is not the correct one." – Organic Marble Jun 17 at 1:09

"Colony" by Philip K. Dick.

Robert Silverberg's Worlds of Wonder

(As I read it with Robert Silverberg's subtitle "I Trusted the Rug Completely".)

One office furnishing:

The towel wrapped around his wrist, yanking him against the wall. Rough cloth pressed over his mouth and nose. He fought wildly, pulling away. All at once the towel let go. He fell, sliding to the floor, his head striking the wall. Stars shot around him; then violent pain.

Another office furnishing:

On the floor lay Captain Taylor, his face blue, his eyes gaping. Only his head and his feet were visible. A red and white scatter rug was wrapped around him, squeezing, straining tighter and tighter.

And yes, of course they were not believed.

Commander Morrison held the towel up to the light. "It's just an ordinary towel! It couldn't have attacked you." "Of course not", Hall agreed. "We've put these objects through all the tests we can think of. They're just what they're supposed to be, all elements unchanged. Perfectly stable non-organic objects. It's impossible that any of these could have come to life and attacked us."

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    That's not the one I'm thinking of. There were no animated objects, just a building which killed people who stayed in it too long, making them sicken and die. – FuzzyBoots May 12 at 21:53

"Inanimate Objection" by H Chandler Elliott.


A man is put into an insane asylum because he believes inanimate objects have it in for us. The chief psychiatrist doesn’t think the man is crazy especially after a number of mishaps. Another story with a good sense of humor.

A copy of the story can be read online in the February 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

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    Why do you think that's the one? Is it about a malevolent OFFICE BUILDING? – user14111 Apr 12 '18 at 7:50
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    I have this story, in The Mammoth Book Of Science Fiction edited by Mike Ashley and I struggle to see any similarity to the story described in the question. – John Rennie Apr 12 '18 at 10:47
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    Someday we'll learn the epic story behind @user14111 vs Google. – Organic Marble Apr 12 '18 at 21:42
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    @Martin: Honestly, if you fleshed it out somewhat, it wouldn't be that bad of an answer, even if it were wrong. A well-written answer with an explanation of the plot and why you feel it matches very seldom attracts downvotes. – FuzzyBoots Apr 12 '18 at 22:51
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    @Martin - We don't generally remove/delete answers for being wrong, we just downvote them. In the case if ID question, we'll generally upvote them even if they're wrong as long as there's an explanation of why you think that your pick matches the story. – Valorum Apr 12 '18 at 23:05

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