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40 years or so ago, I read a paperback that was already old then in which one of the stories had a young adult male protagonist working in a nursing home or hospital.

By coincidence, one of the patients is his uncle. The uncle just lays there doing almost nothing. In the beginning, the uncle occasionally mentions names of companies without saying anything else, and the protagonist notices that if one were to invest in the companies he would make a profit. He starts doing this and mentions to a co-worker that his stock picks come from an "unimpeachable source", which is literally true because the uncle is mentally incompetent. Then the uncle starts naming stars and dates, and the protagonist observes that the stars go nova on the given date. Then the uncle says "Sol" and gives a date in the near future.

The story ends with the protagonist refusing to cooperate with whatever scheme the uncle would have for transcending the impending destruction of Earth and instead taking a vacation so he can enjoy his remaining days. He takes his girlfriend or wife, who doesn't understand the abrupt desire to go on a vacation. There is conflict and it is unpleasant and then the story ends with the protagonist trying to relax on a beach as he expects the Sun to explode and kill everybody.

Another cute event that happens sometime in the story is that the protagonist sends his uncle's bowel movements to be analyzed by a lab every day for some period of time. It comes back with exactly the same weight every day. I read this as saying that the weights actually were the same, but perhaps the intended interpretation was that the lab was refusing to do these redundant analyses and simply giving back the same data repeatedly after the first day.

I remember the title as "Trisomy 21", but I have not been able to find it with that title. "Trisomy 21" is a name for Down's syndrome, and I don't think any of the characters had Down's syndrome.

I'm wanting to reread it because now I realize that it might have been about the protagonist being delusional.

I seem to recall it was in a paperback book that had one or two stories in the book, so maybe it was novella, or maybe a novel. Many of the books from the pile were typical novel length and had two novellas in them with two front covers and no back covers. You could look at one front cover and read one novella, then you could turn it over and look at the other front cover and read the other novella. If you got to the end of one novella and kept flipping pages you'd start seeing the pages of the other novella printed upside down and in reverse order. Ace doubles are about the right era and were popular, so it could have been in one of those. This novella might have been part of one of these two-novella books, or it might have been longer and in a book by itself.

Can anyone here identify the author and correct name of the novella?

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  • Hi, welcome to the site. Can you clarify whether this is a novella or a short story? You used the word 'novella' in the title, but the first line of the question suggest this was a short story within a collection of stories. May 13, 2023 at 21:16
  • Thanks for the feedback. I updated the description to say what I can recall about the size and format. May 13, 2023 at 21:30
  • I read the list of Ace Doubles titles on Wikpedia that had the "SF" keyword just now. None felt familiar. "Trisomy" was not metioned. May 13, 2023 at 22:29

1 Answer 1

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The book is Tetrasomy Two by Oscar Rossiter. It was published in 1975.

Tetrasomy Two

You have misremembered a few things. It's a novel not a novella, though it's a short novel, and the catatonic is not the protagonist's uncle but just a man called Ernest Peckham. He is in the care of the protagonist, Dr. Boyd, who is a first year resident at the hospital.

As you say Peckham mumbles the names of companies about to do well in the stock market:

When she had been gone thirteen - a few seconds, Mr. Peckham said, "Hercules thirty-four," very distinctly.
...
The stock in a company by that name had been actively traded on the exchange the past few days and had had a phenomenal rise in price. An investigation had been promised because it had started up two days before the award of an important government contract.

I checked the dates again. When Mr. Peckham's message had come, the stock could have been bought at thirty-four. A day later, the flurry in trading had begun and the price had started up.

The bit about the weight of the bowel movements appears when the protagonist is giving a presentation on Peckham:

"The first slide shows the results of laboratory work done on E.P. in this hospital. Notice the dates. There are no entries between his admission and read-mission and then none until recently. There was no reason to order more. He has never had a complication, an infection, or even an elevation of temperature in the twenty-five years he has been here. Notice also how nearly identical these findings are. Either his metabolism has not varied at all or our lab reports the same results on all specimens.

"To eliminate the last possibility, I sent some specimens to a private lab and others I examined myself.

"The next slide, please.

"You see that the results are the same. On the last line are the weights of stools he passed; these all weighed 184 grams.

"The next slide will be the last we will see for a while. This was also prepared in a private laboratory and is a diagram of E.P.'s chromosome count. The circled pair are extra, for E.P. has two more than the usual compliment of forty-six chromosomes. Those duplicated are the No. 2 pair, which give to this abnormality the title "Tetrasomy two.' This has never been reported before, and were it the only unusual finding in this patient would make him worthy of being presented here as well as the subject of an article for the literature."

However the ending is very different from your memory. It all becomes a bit weird. I wonder if the novel was adapted from a short story or novella and that's what you remember.

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