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Friday, January 23, 2015

"Eurema’s Dam" by R. A. Lafferty

First appeared in Robert Silverberg’s New Dimensions. Reprinted in several Year’s Best and genre retrospectives by Lester del Rey, Terry Carr, Isaac Asimov, Robert Silverberg, and Orson Scott Card. It won the Hugo and Seiun awards and was up for the Locus.
Albert, about the last of the dolts, is thought of as the only idiot in a society of human perfection. Albert, though, invents things to make up for his lacks since "Necessity is the mother of invention": a machine for hunches, for understanding women, etc. In fact, in the last thirty years, the major inventions all belong to Albert.

The story opens nearly majestic (the word "about" undermines the majesty):
"He was about the last of them."
Lafferty then plays on the readers' expectations, allowing for grand possibilities, but slaps the reader's face with a dead-fish surprise:
"No. No. He was the last of the dolts."
Although he and his society seem to agree Albert is a dolt, he is anything but. When listing his defects, astute readers will note the creative genius turning the gears of his mind. Although he can't tell time, he isn't interested in time. He must understand a litany of strange aspects of Nature--things most mortals do not understand--in order to differentiate his left hand from his right. Not to mention all of his inventions that no one else has come up with. All because of his flaw of being "a dolt."

This must have touched the then-zeitgeist of the SF'nal mind: in what was Lafferty’s only major award-winner. It is the nerd-song, the tune of which must have rang more melodic in its day with the then-denigration of any who lie outside cultural norms. The quotes below touch on what must have triggered the passion.

The story ends:
"We'll inaugurate a new era!... We'll gobble them [the ordinary] like goobers."
The Twenty-First Century began on this rather odd note. 
Although it may not be as Lafferty's vision, there's a predictive truth here. Nerds or societal outliers have been more closely accepted as societal norms.
  1. "Some things would always be beyond him--like whether it was the big hand or the little hand of the clock that told the hours. But this wasn't something serious. He never did care what time it was."
  2. "Were we all well adjusted, we would ossify and die."
  3. "The world is kept healthy only by some of the unhealthy minds lurking in it."
  4. "Only a crippled calf makes a new path."
  5. "Dolts!... What will you do for dolts when the last of us is gone? How will you survive without us?"


  1. The great lesson to learn from this story, which is absolutely true, is that it is the defective that drives invention.

    The first tool wasn't a club, it was a crutch. The decimal system was developed by dolts too dim to handle the more elegant hexadecimal, who needed to count on their fingers.