I read this in the early 2000s I think in Asimovs or F&SF. The main character has a friend who thinks he would have done better in life by not being so distractable, and instead concentrating on one specialty. Somehow (genetic engineering?) he creates a treatment that will give him that ability, but it becomes contagious. The main character sees someone become a chess world champion (perhaps this is the friend?); the main character's wife becomes obsessed with gardening to the exclusion of all else. The main character himself delights in the fact that he still is unaffected and can get distracted or bored and move to a different task.

The obsessed people are in kind of a similar condition to some characters in the more recent novel Autonomous, but less severe; no one (as I recall) is starving because they won't turn away from their obsession to eat - they're just thinking about their obsession even when they eat.

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    Ignore previous comment, I was confusing this with something else I'd read. May 15 at 22:45

1 Answer 1


This is "End Game" by Nancy Kress. A scientist finds an amateur chess player who suddenly is able to block distractions and increases her chess scores rapidly. The scientist manages to isolate the techo-babble element necessary for this feat, and it indeed turns out to be contagious somehow. Downplayed tragedy follows. you can read it here, or here

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    @user14111 I edited the answer to include you link, thanks!
    – user108131
    May 16 at 9:13

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