Tuesday, October 11, 2016

"Tales of Big Brother Pale into Insignificance Compared with the Researches an Eidochron Could Do on Your Life"

By Colin Kapp (1928-2007).
First appearance: Galaxy Magazine, March-April 1973.
Reprinted in Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine (UK), March/April 1973 and Science Fiction Story Reader 4 (1975).
Short story (17 pages).
Online at Archive.org HERE.
"The perfect weapon to enforce law and order, and also to end them!"
Can a technology be so protean and so powerful that merely making use of it would be dangerous to both an adversary and the user, too? Crimescan, an extra-legal high-tech group concerned with catching the criminals that the authorities fail to apprehend, has developed the Eidochron, a device that can see both the past and the future with absolute fidelity. What could be wrong with tracking down murderers, as long as the thing works? The Eidochron's developer, Michael Coyne, understands the implications, however, as he explains to his ace technician, Tseudi Hyde:
"Those controls under your fingers contain everything needed to support the most horrifying tyranny in history. The voyeur, the blackmailer, the jealous wife, the market-research man, the tax inspector and the ambitious politician would all use it if they could. That's why they mustn't ever have access to it."
So far Crimescan has been able to operate clandestinely without interference from the government, but Major Spier sees them as a threat to national security and intends to take decisive action, as he tells Chief Inspector Grattan:
"I'm trying to get it through your thick skull, that these people, whoever they are, are a damn sight too clever. There isn't a secret in the country they couldn't find if they wished. And that's far too dangerous a power to leave floating around in the hands of nameless private citizens, no matter how well intentioned."
Grattan, who finds the Major revolting, flatly refuses to go along with Spier's cold-blooded plan to smoke out the group:
"Crimescan is helping to uphold the law and making the world a safer place to live in. For those of you who work above the law I have neither time nor sympa-thy. God help the lot of us if things ever start going all your way."
But Spier won't back down, meaning that someone is going to die . . .

Comment: A thought-provoking little story that ends too abruptly.

Typos: "seemed to excited him further"; "a public phone in at the railroad station"; most or all of a line dropped on page 131.

- Articles about Colin Kapp and his output are at the SFE (HERE), Don Dammassa's extensive essay (HERE), the Web Archive (HERE), the ISFDb (HERE), and Wikipedia (HERE); the only Kapp story to be filmed so far is discussed on the IMDb (HERE).
- The 2002 movie Minority Report (HERE) deals with "precogs" who see crimes before they happen; our story, in contrast, deals with what could be termed "postcog," seeing crime in incredible detail after it has occurred. Another tale with a similar theme is Lewis Padgett's "Private Eye" (1949), previously discussed on ONTOS (HERE).
- Kapp's clever neologism for his time viewer stems from two Greek roots: "eido" = "to know" and "chron" = "time"; he also seems to have intended the term to slyly suggest another word, "eidolon":
In ancient Greek literature, an eidolon (plural: eidola or eidolons) (Greek εἴδωλον: "image, idol, double, apparition, phantom, ghost") is a spirit-image of a living or dead person; a shade or phantom look-alike of the human form. — Wikipedia (HERE).

The bottom line: "After all, every murderer when he kills runs the risk of the most dreadful of deaths, whereas those who kill him risk nothing except promotion."
Albert Camus

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