I'm looking for a short story I read as a teen. In the near future, people have machines at home that evaluate their mental health. If it goes bad, they are known to be arrested and taken somewhere and never seen again. The story hero happens to get badly evaluated and is ultimately caught and taken to a facility, where he learns that actually the world has gone crazy and the facility is for sane people.

I read it translated in French but I'm pretty sure it was by an American author, and due to the (translated) writing style and the topic, I would think it could be authored by Van Vogt (or perhaps an early K. Dick?).

  • This is a nice description, do you know when you would have read this and if it was new at the time? If so you can edit that into the question. – TheLethalCarrot Feb 26 '19 at 9:31
  • Some old story titled 'Elephant with a wooden leg' comes to mind. I can't remember who wrote it but it had that premise of outside world being insane – DannyMcG Feb 26 '19 at 11:33
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    @Danny3414 Written by John Sladek and is available online here (scroll down the text is underneath the pdf version). – TheLethalCarrot Feb 26 '19 at 11:39
  • Thanks for the suggestion but it's not that one I think. In the story I'm talking about, people had a machine at home checking their mental health everyday. – Grayswandyr Feb 26 '19 at 12:01
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    Do you remember any details about the nature of this daily check? Was it a kind of scan via detector? A series of question? Something else entirely? Do you happen to remember what, exactly, was the cause of the main character's bad evaluation? Little details like these can be very helpful in identifying a story. – Otis Feb 27 '19 at 4:01

This could be “The Academy” by Robert Sheckley. It’s not an exact match (in particular, the ending is different) but it’s close.

“The Academy” takes place in a society obsessed with “sanity” and preserving the status quo. There are “sanity meters” In most public places. In addition, you can buy home sanity meters, and the protagonist owns one. A reading of zero indicates perfect sanity. If your reading goes above seven you’re required to seek therapy. If it goes above ten, or remains over seven for longer than a probationary period, you have to either submit to psychosurgery or go to The Academy. The Academy is an “enormous gray building” which supposedly offers therapy, but nobody knows what actually takes place in it and nobody ever leaves.

The protagonist, Mr. Feerman, begins the story with a sanity reading of 8.2. The bulk of the story is Feerman trying to avoid going to The Academy as his reading steadily rises. Meanwhile, it becomes clear to the reader that any dissent or even dissatisfaction is taken as a sign of potential insanity. At the end of the story, his reading goes above ten and he is taken to The Academy. He is afraid he’ll be killed, but instead a doctor gives him an injection which traps his mind permanently in a delusional fantasy.

The doctor doesn’t tell him that he is sane and the rest of the world is mad. Instead, he realizes himself that there’s nothing wrong with him and that in the long run society needs people willing to challenge the status quo. He tries to fight the effects of the injection, but fails.

You wrote: “what you were allowed in society (food, apartment...) depended on whether you were "sane" or not.”

This isn’t strictly true, but similar events take place. After Freeman’s reading goes above eight, he is let go from his job. Once it hits nine, the counterman at a diner kicks him out, saying “The law says I don’t have to serve no plus-nines.” And once it passes ten, his robot servant leaves him and his landlady says he has to leave immediately.

“The Academy” appears in Pilgrimage to Earth, and can also be read here.

  • You found it, great! You're right, my recollection was a bit wrong, but now I have no doubt that's the story I was looking for. Thank you so much! I loved Sheckley's books. – Grayswandyr Mar 22 '19 at 8:19

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