11

I've been told from my father about a novel or short story with the following plot: in the US, someone finds out (probably through statistics or similar plot device) that there's a recurring temporal pattern in presidential assassination attempts. The same algorithm predicts that the next president will be assassinated. In order to "solve the issue", the election is steered so that the elected president is a black man, but the prediction turns out not to hold.

I have no idea how to find something like this. The novel is most likely from the '60s or '70s, and as I said, it might well be a short story.

  • 2
    Are you sure the president was a black man? I think I remember a story like this, but it was a black woman. Now racking my brain for the title… – user56 Jan 31 '13 at 0:20
  • Do any of the titles in Alternate Presidents ring a bell? Oh, and this is NOT Heinlein's “Over the Rainbow”/“Happy Days Ahead”, which has the woman elected vice president for party politics and unexpectedly becoming president. I remember a different female black US president short story. – user56 Jan 31 '13 at 0:29
  • 1
    @Gilles, you're not thinking of Interface, by Stephen Bury (actually Neal Stephenson and his uncle writing together), are you? In that story, a group uses a brain implant to manipulate a candidate into getting elected as president, but he's then assassinated, leaving his black (female) vice-president in power. – Pixel Jan 31 '13 at 1:06
  • 2
    Would it be related to the American Indian curse myth? snopes.com/history/american/curse.asp – Simon O'Doherty Jan 31 '13 at 8:44
  • 3
    A black US President! That'll be the day! – Paul D. Waite Jan 31 '13 at 14:02
16
+250

It's "The 1980 President", a short story by Miriam Allen deFord; first published in Galaxy Magazine, October, 1964, available at the Internet Archive; reprinted in deFord's collection Elsewhere, Elsewhen, Elsehow and in the anthology American Government Through Science Fiction. Translated into Italian by Cesare Scaglia, it appeared in Urania N. 364 (with a cover date of 27 dicembre 1964) as "Le date maledette" ("The Cursed Dates").

The story is based on the odd fact that every U.S. President elected in a year divisible by 20, from William Henry Harrison (1840) to John F. Kennedy (1960), died in office, either by assassination (Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Kennedy) or from natural causes (Harrison, Harding, Roosevelt). This historical oddity would have been in the news after the Kennedy assassination (November 1963) and presumably around the time deFord wrote her story, in which the "curse" is taken seriously. The presidential nominees are unaware of the curse until they are briefed by the mysterious Man in Brown:

What I want to say to you both, in the presence of each other, can be put in very few words. Whichever of you wins in November will probably die soon." [. . .] "Because of your age?--no, not because of that," he said, "though that was the real reason why both of you, though naturally you were both highly qualified otherwise, were nominated so easily on the first ballot—and also the reason that both of your vice-presidential candidates are such outstanding figures. [. . .] "Every twenty years, for 140 years now, the successful candidate for president of the United States has either been killed or has died of natural causes while in office. This is 1980."

I won't spoil the story any more than I already have by telling you how the curse was foiled, but it was:

The new president (every American knows now which one it was, and how good a president the successful candidate became) had thus been elected [. . .] Both Robert John Woodruff and Lynn Bartholomew, as we know, are alive and usefully active today. But it had taken the Crisis of 1980 to induce the two major parties to nominate respectively a Negro foundation head and a Senator who happened to be a woman.

  • 3
    You deserve a standing ovation for the incredible detective work you put into this. I don't know if it's the right one, but sounds extremely (99.999%) likely. – Stefano Borini Jun 23 '13 at 21:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.