Friday, December 27, 2013
"Jigsaw Man" by Larry Niven
First published in Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions. Nominated for a Hugo award. Reprinted in two major retrospective anthologies: James Gunn's The Road to Science Fiction #3: From Heinlein to Here and Garyn G. Roberts's Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Caveat: I will "ruin" some of these Larry Niven stories as it is impossible to discuss the science without revealing the key plot points.
Warren Lewis Knowles (or "Lew" presumably not the same man killed in "How the Heroes Die") stands to be tried for the death penalty. In his cell he is surrounded by organleggers who steals people for organ donations (Wiki for Organ Transplantations and the Organ-theft urban legend, so according to Snopes, Niven predates the urban legend).
Bernie, the doc, explodes himself and the cell, and Lew escapes. As luck would have it, Lew escapes into a hospital. There he runs across all of the harvested organs donated waiting to be placed in people. He attacks them so that he'll have died for a reason.
Spoiler: The ending shows what his crime had been to deserve the death penalty: various traffic tickets, drunk driving. That is, the death penalty became a more popular option when other people benefited.
Cool, resonant ending: Society shifts its moral structure to benefit itself. Cool, too, is how Bernie believes that Lew's crimes deserve the death penalty.