What's the first story featuring mass mindwipe (amnesia) of all humanity? (cf. A Wind Named Amnesia)

  • FWIW, Book of M does that to some degree (lithub.com/…)
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 19:36
  • 1
    Also, as per sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/amnesia: "Mass amnesia is caused by Drugs in the public water supply in Robert Silverberg's "How It Was When the Past Went Away" (in Three for Tomorrow, anth 1969, ed Robert Silverberg); by an enigmatic alien satellite that strips away human memory worldwide – four days' worth at a time – in Philip José Farmer's "Sketches Among the Ruins of My Mind" (in Nova 3, anth 1973, ed Harry Harrison); and by a quickly-spreading infectious disease in Geoff Nelder's ARIA: Left Luggage (2012)...."
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 19:37
  • ".... The titular plague of short-term amnesia – typically a day lost from recent memory – in Paul Levinson's The Consciousness Plague (2002) results from a synergy effect between 'flu and a new antibiotic."
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 19:37
  • Does it truly have to be all of humanity, or just a lot of people? All of their memories, or just selected ones?
    – Spencer
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 19:59
  • @Spencer All of humanity (except perhaps 1 or few people depending on the plot)
    – user129090
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 20:08

2 Answers 2


FuzzyBoots's link to a relevant Science Fiction Archive article turned up another tidbit: Rebirth: When Everyone Forgot by Thomas Calvert McClary. Serialized in Astounding Stories in February and March 1934, it was later published in book form in 1944.

Mentally, you moderns are children of Goddard's madness.


What good are brains and research and scientific progress if they accomplish nothing more than to swell their own importance and create wealth for a few and misery for millions?

Goddard, a brilliant scientist disgusted with the wars and inequalities of the world invents a "migroid ray" gun that suppresses the "blue rays" emanating from every human brain, imposing total amnesia on the human race, including Goddard, except one person (the narrator) who was shot up into space after he lost a bet.

Goddard's idea was that people of superior intelligence would rebuild the world into a better place, but the results were far from Goddard's wish.

I've really only skimmed over parts of this story. A Goodreads review of the story indicates that it is sexist, racist, elitist, and probably several other-ists thrown in to boot, and probably not worth the trouble reading. Goddard's viewpoint is called out in the much better story "The Marching Morons" by Cyril Kornbluth.

Thanks to FuzzyBoots for graciously allowing me to post an answer based on their research.


As per my comment from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction entry on amnesia, the earliest example I've found is Robert Silverberg's "How It Was When the Past Went Away"

“A loony with a bunch of nifty drugs puts amnesifacients in San Francisco’s water supply,” reads the story’s description on the “Quasi-Official” Silverberg website, “The city starts to fall apart as people forget who they are, who they’re married to, where they work. The drug effects everyone a little differently, with different memories lost to differing degrees. The story is told in true disaster-movie tradition, with a multitude of characters from different walks of life followed through the crisis. There’s the artist so in debt he can’t afford the tools of his trade, but doesn’t remember his monetary problems or that his wife left him. There’s the crooked stock broker with millions worth of illicit transactions kept only in his head. There’s the grieving man who lost his family in a plane crash. There’s the nightclub performer whose act is that he remembers everything.”

However, that's partial amnesia, and it looks like it's largely in San Francisco.

"Sketches in the Ruins of My Mind" by Philip José Farmer is a bit closer except that it's a progressive form of amnesia that strips four days of memories every night.

  • Huh. I wonder if the nightclub performer is a reference to scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/165490/…...
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 19:51
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    From that same SFE article, Rebirth: When Everyone Forgot by Thomas Calvert McClary (1934) features mass amnesia.
    – Spencer
    Commented May 14, 2020 at 20:12
  • 1
    I remember another story, perhaps novella or novelette length, where people had control over memory editing. There were different tribes of people - those who edited anything at will, those who tried to keep to normal memory, et cetera. The viewpoint character, one of the latter tribe notices that every morning, her memory machine shows an editing scratch executed right after restoring her memory. She somehow disables this edit for the next morning, and thus recovers the memory of how this stuff all started. Commented Jan 22 at 20:55

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