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My memory on this is a little fuzzy since I thought the story was in one of the Golden Age of anthologies that I have but I can't find it there.

I can provide a few more details than in the title.

There are a few different episodes or situations. We are not quite sure what is going on at first but we come to understand that the different characters are actually the same person in multiple simulations or incarnations being tested or assessed by some Galactic Overlord I believe as a replacement or a successor.

IIRC the first episode begins with the character as a prisoner: we see how he responds to being tortured. In one episode, the same character is a musician about to be in a competition. The denouement occurs with the person being told that he was successful: he has been chosen/is successful and will be the new Galactic protector or overseer.

I would just like to find a title and author for that so I can track down the story again. I think it was written in the 1950s or earlier.

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    "The New Prime" aka "The Brain of the Galaxy" by Jack Vance. I will post a full answer with links real soon. Watch this space. – user14111 Oct 15 at 10:59
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    Never mind! Just call me The Slowest Gun in the West. – user14111 Oct 15 at 11:01
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    The person who answered your question wants no links posted, but if you go to the site archive.org and search for 'worlds beyond 1951', your story is in the February issue. – user14111 Oct 15 at 11:57
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    Thank you so much, TheLethalCarrot and user14111! I have been trying online searches through various engines and utilities, as well as IRL through every anthology in my collection, for over 1.5 years to no avail. And here you had the answer for me in less than a day. All hail the true "brain of the galaxy"! I am at your service, sir/madam. With sincerest thanks, Steven – Steven Frederick Baljkas Oct 17 at 11:13
  • Your welcome, Steven.You can officially "accept" Broklynite's answer by clicking on the check mark next to it. – user14111 Oct 17 at 11:32
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I believe this is Jack Vance’s Brain of the Galaxy, aka The New Prime, from Worlds Beyond, 1951. Scans are available for free on the web but I am not 100% certain about copyright so I am not posting links here.

The story is a series of disconnected tales. The first one, a man finds himself naked at a cocktail party and must evade the morality police. Once he has, the scene shifts and now he is a member of a tribe whose village was destroyed, and he gathers his people to enact vengeance. In another is a soldier tortured for information.

In the end, the man awakens and we find out that these were a series of tests to decide who would be the new Prime (kind of a galactic overlord). The protagonist was the former Prime and the time had come for a new one to be chosen. He had helped design the tests to reflect the leadership qualities that he thought were necessary for the job- courage, willpower, cleverness, etc.

However the head of his cabinet equivalent explains that there is a philosophy that the character of the leader psychically reverberates into the rest of the universe. There had been greater violence since he had been Prime. He had designed the tests, and had excelled at them- but by nature of designing the tests, they were ones he would have excelled in.

Instead, the cabinet had chosen one of the other applicants who had taken the test. When appearing naked at the cocktail party, he had tried to convince the other guests to embrace a naturalist lifestyle. When he found his village destroyed, he tried to broker peace. In each scenario he failed. But that kindness and generosity of spirit was what the cabinet wanted to emanate throughout the universe rather than the sharp witted hardness from the now former Prime.

In the end, the new Prime is taken out and hailed, dribbling, mentally broken from the torture experience.

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    1. I always thought the Internet Archive scans were copyright-friendly. Am I wrong? 2. It should be out of copyright by now. If it isn't, the copyright laws are wrong. 3. Is there any harm is showing the OP which compilations the story has appeared in? – user14111 Oct 15 at 11:10
  • @user14111 I did not find it on the Internet archive (didn’t look for it there) but instead spotted it in a few places. Thanks for the heads up tho. – Broklynite Oct 15 at 18:27

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