Behind the Jet-Propelled Couch:
Cordwainer Smith & Kirk Allen
ALAN C. ELMS
[Originally published in the New York Review of Science Fiction, May 2002]
In 1978 I began to pursue the question of whether Paul
Linebarger, aka Cordwainer Smith, had been the patient in “The
Jet-Propelled Couch,” a psychoanalytic case history written by
Robert Lindner. Over the past quarter-century I’ve accumulated
more information and ideas on that question than I can fully present
here. Instead I’ll use the format of a FAQ – a list of
“frequently asked questions” and fairly brief answers.
1.) Why are you doing this?
a) As a follow-up to one of the most famous case histories ever published. Robert Lindner’s book, The Fifty-Minute Hour,
has sold several million copies since its first publication in 1955 and
has remained almost constantly in print. The book’s most
fascinating case, “The Jet-Propelled Couch,” has been
reprinted in magazines and anthologies, has been dramatized on live TV,
has repeatedly been optioned for a feature-length film, and even
provided the basis for a Stephen Sondheim musical that (like all those
potential film versions) was never completed.
b) The case study has been of special interest to sf fans ever since its early reprinting in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Its protagonist, a patient called Kirk Allen, experienced what struck
many fans as the ideal psychosis: he spontaneously found himself living
a heroic life as “Lord of a planet in an interplanetary
empire,” far in the future (Fifty-Minute Hour, 250).
Fans have remained so intrigued that they’ve repeatedly tried to
figure out the patient’s true identity. A set of urban legends
about “the real Kirk Allen” has become solidly established
in the field.
c) One of those legends is that after he was
“cured,” Kirk Allen became a highly original and
influential science fiction writer, under the pseudonym Cordwainer
Smith. As a reader and fan, I had been much impressed by Cordwainer
Smith’s science fiction even before that connection was proposed.
As a psychologist, I was intrigued by the complex life and personality
of Paul Linebarger, the man behind Cordwainer Smith. As a fan and
a psychologist, I wondered whether the case history of Kirk Allen could
provide insight into the stories of Cordwainer Smith, and conversely,
whether the later life and career of Paul Linebarger could cast new
light on Robert Lindner’s analysis of Kirk Allen.
2.) Who originated the idea that “Kirk Allen” was Paul Linebarger/Cordwainer Smith?
That identification of Kirk Allen was first published in Brian Aldiss’s 1973 history of sf, Billion Year Spree.
But Aldiss didn’t take credit for the idea. As he said in a
footnote (179), “I am indebted to Dr. Leon Stover for evidence
that ‘Kirk’ is, in fact, the pseudonym for . . . Cordwainer
Smith.” And who is Leon Stover? He’s an anthropologist, a
China expert, a science fiction scholar, an occasional collaborator
with Harry Harrison. Back then he was a friend of Brian Aldiss, and so
he explained to Aldiss in a friendly conversation how he knew that Kirk
Allen was in reality Linebarger/Smith.
3.) Why not ask Stover where he got his information and be done with the whole issue?
I did ask, early on. Stover responded with a cordial
but ambiguous letter, telling me little except that he felt bitter
toward Aldiss for unexplained reasons. In subsequent letters, Stover
said his remark to Aldiss about the Lindner-Linebarger connection had
been intended as a private confidence, and he sternly ordered me not to
mention his name “at all” in my research. He implied that I
was reaching for secret government stuff and had better back off.
So I backed off, for a while. Over the years I wrote to
Stover a couple more times, but his responses only left me more
confused about what he knew and how he knew it. I began to wonder
whether he’d ever known anything at all about the real Kirk
Allen. Finally, several years ago, he relented and identified his
principal source: Robert Lindner himself. For a time Stover had been a
graduate student at Harvard under a leading Sinologist, John K.
Fairbank. As Stover told me, “At all events, it was at a cocktail
party in Fairbank's on-campus home that I met Dr. Lindner. This must
have been somewhen in 1951 or 1952. And we did talk about SF and
Linebarger in particular; but whether or not Lindner mentioned
C[ordwainer] S[mith] as his patient, my memory is hazy. I think this
was dropped as a confidence, considering the company I was in among the
top China people, but I am no longer absolutely sure, and would rather
not be quoted.” A few days later, Stover wrote again to say about
Lindner, “When I met him, he had not yet written the book [The Fifty-Minute Hour],
but he obviously had already taken on CS as a patient since he
mentioned him by name. I am haunted by the memory that he also used the
term ‘patient,’ but I cannot be sure whether this is a
false memory or not. If your own research bears out that fact, then I
am willing to let you quote me to that effect, since the memory will
then have been proved not to be false. At this distance in time I
cannot be absolutely certain; and since this is such a crucial point,
you will understand my wariness in reporting all that passed between
Dr. Lindner and myself. I never thought it would be important; nor do I
recall exactly what I told Brian Aldiss.”
This account by Stover left several points unresolved.
As of 1951 or 1952, only one Cordwainer Smith story had appeared in
print, the real identity of Smith was known to very few in the sf
world, and Robert Lindner had probably not even begun to draft
“The Jet-Propelled Couch.” Further, it seems hardly likely
that Dr. Lindner would have told an unknown young graduate student at a
cocktail party that Paul Linebarger had been his patient. But Stover
was already aware of Paul Linebarger’s reputation as a prominent
China scholar. (Fairbank and Linebarger had known each other since
early in their academic careers.) And Stover had recently attended a
meeting of the Hydra Club, a collection of New York City sf
professionals and fans, with his writer friend Harry Harrison. As
Stover told me, “Somebody at the Club mentioned that CS was Paul
Linebarger and, as a budding Asian specialist, I was able to
elaborate.” That “somebody” was most likely one of
the several editors to whom Linebarger had sent his early sf stories,
with his real name in the return address on the first page. So Stover
was primed to tell Lindner, as a fellow sf enthusiast, that he knew of
a China scholar who had recently published a strange and powerful story
called “Scanners Live in Vain.” Lindner would have been
intrigued enough at this information to tell Stover he knew Paul
Linebarger quite well. Thus when Lindner’s book containing
“The Jet-Propelled Couch” appeared 3 or 4 years later,
Stover presumably put two and two together, recognizing Kirk Allen as
the man they had talked about.
Stover’s latest book, Science Fiction from Wells to Heinlein,
contains what he has described to me as his “final
confidence” about the whole matter. Lindner’s patient, he
says, “quite evidently is Dr. Paul M. A. Linebarger (d.
1966), a distinguished political scientist and military adviser to the
United States government. Dr. Lindner entered into his patient’s
internally consistent fantasy world and, working within it, got him out
of it far enough to allow him to resume his professional life. (Dr.
Lindner confirmed all this when we met in 1950 at Harvard University,
then his academic posting)” (145). For the historical record, I
should note that Lindner never had an “academic posting” at
Harvard, and that Stover’s “final confidence” is much
more confident about what Lindner told him than in those earlier
accounts to me. But at least Stover is now willing to go on the public
record about Lindner as the direct source of his information about the
4.) Why depend on Leon Stover’s admittedly
unreliable memory? Why not ask Lindner or Linebarger, or look for
documentary evidence that Linebarger had been Lindner’s patient?
Both Linebarger and Lindner died early, Lindner at age
41 and Linebarger at 53. Any documentary evidence of their connection
has been destroyed. Lindner’s widow burned his professional
papers two years before I first contacted her. Though multitudes of
Linebarger’s personal papers survived his death, only a few pages
about his many years of psychotherapy escaped the sifting of those
papers by his widow Genevieve and then by the executors of her estate
after she died. None of the pages that survived refer to Robert
5.) Isn’t it possible that Robert Lindner
made up the whole case – that there never was a real patient
behind the pseudonym “Kirk Allen”?
It has sometimes been suggested that the case histories
Lindner included in his “Collection of True Psychoanalytic
Tales” (the book’s subtitle) are too neat, too dramatically
structured, to be true. Lindner may have improved the narrative shape
of the case histories, but there is evidence that the patients were
real. Lee Weinstein (NYRSF,
April 2001) has located detailed newspaper accounts of the case of
Charles, only lightly disguised in Lindner’s chapter titled
“Songs My Mother Taught Me.” Lindner’s widow Eleanor
told me she had met Kirk Allen on several occasions, though she
couldn’t remember much about his physical appearance and
didn’t know his personal background. Lindner’s brother
Harold, also a clinical psychologist, not only met Kirk but described
him to me: “Stooped, lanky, tall, professorial in appearance,
definitely gray-haired.” All that except the
“gray-haired” part would describe Paul Linebarger, whose
hair was (according to his daughters and his medical records) brown.
Serious readers will recall a key character in Cordwainer Smith’s
fiction, Mr. Gray-No-More. Perhaps Paul Linebarger’s hair color
had faded by the end of World War Two and then was somehow restored, or
maybe Harold Lindner just saw him in the wrong light.
6.) Does Kirk Allen’s biography resemble Paul Linebarger’s biography?
Yes it does, and in quite interesting ways, as long as
we keep in mind that Robert Lindner was professionally obliged to
disguise his patient’s identity in any published discussion of
his case. Among many similarities, I’ll mention only a few of the
more significant ones here.
a.) Occupation: Lindner describes
Kirk Allen as a “research physicist” working at a
high-security “government installation in the Southwest.”
According to the standard rules of case history disguise, the patient
was therefore almost certainly not a physicist but probably some other
kind of scientist. What was Paul Linebarger doing during the period
when Kirk Allen was being treated in Baltimore by Robert Lindner? If my
approximate dating of the case is correct, the treatment began while he
was working as an Army Intelligence officer in the basement of the
Pentagon – which happens to be a high-security government
installation southwest of Baltimore. Linebarger was by training a
political scientist, but in his pseudonymous self-descriptions for book
jackets, he sometimes called himself a “government
scientist,” implying that he was a physicist or something
similar. Despite the differences one might expect between a
physicist’s work and that of a political scientist,
Lindner’s description of Kirk’s job is remarkably similar
to Linebarger’s description of his own job at the time. Lindner
quotes Kirk’s referring physician as saying, “Allen’s
a section chief and the biggest part of his job is to evaluate and
correlate reports of the research people under him and then send on
digests of his section’s work to the divisional head”
(224). In a 1947 letter, Linebarger described his recent Pentagon
service this way: “For over a year, I was the Summary and Reports
Officer, office of the G-2, China theater” – i. e.,
responsible for digesting intelligence information on China and sending
it on up the military hierarchy.
b.) Family and early background:
Some of the most remarkable similarities or coincidences fall into this
category. For instance, in the case history, Kirk’s father is
described as a retired naval officer who became a “Commissioner
on one of the mandated islands” in the South Pacific. He later
retained his naval bearing and his title, Lindner says, usually being
referred to as “the Commodore.” Given the rules of
disguising case histories, it’s a sure thing that Kirk’s
father was never in the Navy and was never called “the
Commodore.” But Paul Linebarger’s father had served as a U.
S. Federal Judge in the Philippines (roughly equivalent to
“mandated islands”) before Paul was born, took a medical
retirement after six years, and was for the rest of his life referred
to by family and friends as “the Judge.” The same people
called Paul’s mother “Miss Lillian”; in the case
history, the adolescent Kirk has a sexual relationship described as
“tantamount to incest” with a governess named “Miss
Lilian” (242). Lillian Linebarger’s married name, before
she divorced her first husband and married Paul Linebarger Senior, was
Kirk – information known to very few, but useful to a therapist
wanting to give a patient a memorable code name for his files. Kirk
Allen is described as having grown up in Hawaii and Polynesia;
Linebarger spent much of his childhood in China, with brief periods in
Hawaii and elsewhere in the Pacific. Kirk was traumatized by the sudden
departure of his favorite nurse/caretaker when he was around six; Paul
Linebarger suffered a similar loss at a similar age. Kirk supposedly
learned a Polynesian dialect as his first language; Linebarger learned
Chinese from the time he was five or six. Linebarger and his mother and
brother lived in Honolulu for a time in 1919; so did Kirk and his
c.) Other clues: Robert Lindner
reported various specific details about Kirk Allen besides his
occupation and family history. Again, as psychotherapists from Freud
onward have practiced case-history writing, such specific details are
often altered to lead readers away from the scent rather than toward
it. But fans have instead treated these details as direct
“clues” to Kirk Allen’s identity. The most frequently
cited “clues” of this kind involve Kirk’s reading
patterns in early adolescence. Lindner tells us that Kirk responded
with a shock of recognition when he discovered protagonists bearing his
own name in (i) a novel by a famous English author, (ii) a
fictionalized “volume of semiphilosophical reflections by an
American stylist of the ’twenties,” and (iii) a “long
series of strange and adventurous tales” by an American author
about an “all-conquering [science-fictional] hero”
(243-244). Kirk then proceeded to develop a massive delusional system
in which he became that hero and extended his adventures through time
Further details provided by Lindner about category iii
have led many fans to assume Kirk Allen’s real name was John
Carter, after the Mars novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Other fans have
suggested other early SF series heroes and thus other “real
names” for the patient. I’ll say more shortly about the
John Carter possibility. But I want to emphasize first that Robert
Lindner was not obligated to provide accurate
clues to his patient’s identity. The information he provided
about Kirk’s reading preferences should have reliably depicted
the psychological significance of such reading for Kirk, but should at
the same time have steered readers away from the patient’s real
name. I suspect that Lindner intentionally provided certain details
that would lead casual readers to draw the erroneous conclusion that
the patient’s real name was John Carter. I suspect further that
Lindner’s description of Kirk’s favorite sf books, as well
as of his subsequent delusional system about being the commander of a
future space fleet, were borrowed in part from Lindner’s own
recent reading of Edmond Hamilton’s novel The Star Kings
as a way to further disguise Kirk’s actual reading. (Edmond
Hamilton seems to have recognized the similarities. In a later sequel
to The Star Kings, titled Return to the Stars, the
protagonist is told by a present-day psychotherapist that his recent
adventures as a Star King were totally delusional—whereupon he
returns triumphantly to the reality of his life in the far future.)
If Kirk Allen did not identify by name with John Carter,
what was he reading that encouraged his fantasizing about himself as a
science-fictional hero? Just to suggest the possibilities, I’ll
point to several books that loosely fit Lindner’s descriptions,
books that Paul Linebarger likely read with great interest, and that
would have given him a basis for fantasized identification because
their protagonists shared one of his given names or nickname.
(i) Concerning a novel by a famous English author:
Linebarger was called “Paulie” (pronounced
“Polly”) by his mother, and H. G. Wells was his favorite
author in early adolescence. In Wells’s The History of Mr. Polly,
the adolescent Polly (like Kirk Allen) “began to read stories
voraciously, and books of travel, provided they were also adventurous.
. . . He would sneak out on moonless winter nights and stare up at the
stars, and afterwards find it difficult to tell his father where he had
been. . . . He rammed and torpedoed ships, one against ten,” etc.
(ii) Concerning a fictionalized “volume of
semiphilosophical reflections by an American stylist of the
’twenties”: Emphasizing the “semiphilosophical
reflections” part of that description, let’s instead
consider a British stylist of the 1930s, Olaf Stapledon. He was another
of young Paul Linebarger’s favorite authors, and the protagonist
of his 1932 novel Last Men in London
is named Paul. The book offers a combination of fictionalized
autobiography and transcendent future visions that anticipates
important elements of the Cordwainer Smith stories. (iii) Then
there’s that “long series of strange and adventurous
tales” about an “all-conquering [science-fictional]
hero.” Fans have struggled to come up with another series hero
besides John Carter who might have had the same name as Lindner’s
patient; so have I. The possibilities are rather limited if we’re
talking (as Lindner apparently was) about a science-fictional series
hero of the 1920s or early 1930s. Lee Weinstein independently came up
with the same best-guess hypothesis that I did: the novels by Phil
Nowlan, and the comic strips inspired by them, about that long-running
SF hero, Anthony “Buck” Rogers. One of Paul
Linebarger’s middle names, which he used in his earliest
pseudonyms, was Anthony. In a schoolboy essay he scornfully dismissed
the Buck Rogers comic strips – but in a similar bid to impress
his English teachers, he did the same to the much admired Olaf
Fans have usually focused on Kirk Allen’s reading
preferences in trying to figure out his real identity. As far as I know
they’ve never pursued another “clue,” the one that
starts off the case history. When Kirk Allen is first referred to Dr.
Lindner, Kirk’s boss says he’s been covering whole pages of
his official reports with “funny symbols or . . . pictographs, I
guess you’d call them” (224). These turn out to be
Kirk’s on-the-job notes about his visits to other planets. Any
trace of these in Paul Linebarger’s papers? No diaries of visits
to other planets have survived, unless they’re tucked away in
some Pentagon sub-sub-basement — but numerous examples of
Paul’s pictographs do exist in his personal papers. As a
teenager, Linebarger worked out his own secret alphabet, based on
Chinese characters, in which he recorded diary entries that were
critical of his father or descriptive of his early sexual explorations.
He was fluent enough in this self-invented pictographic code to
continue using it occasionally throughout his life, right up to his
final days. It would have been easy to make occasional coded notes to
himself in the margins of his intelligence reports, during those long
post-World-War-Two months at his Pentagon desk job before his return to
academia. It would not have been surprising for his boss to be
disturbed at finding such private-code messages scrawled across secret
7.) But what about the dissimilarities between Kirk Allen’s life and Paul Linebarger’s life?
Significant dissimilarities are indeed evident,
especially concerning aspects of Kirk Allen’s sexual and romantic
life close in time to the start of his therapy with Robert Lindner.
Some of these dissimilarities may be explained by the need to conceal
the patient’s identity especially from current or recent
co-workers and friends, who would more readily recognize aspects of
Kirk’s ongoing relationships than his early history. But some
case-history details seem so dissimilar from what we know about Paul
Linebarger that if he truly was the patient, they violate the other
part of the case-history writer’s rules: the obligation to
represent the patient’s core psychological issues as accurately
as possible. Such major discrepancies between Kirk Allen’s
psychological problems and Paul Linebarger’s problems can best be
explained, I think, by noting Linebarger’s strong desire to
remain active in Army Intelligence, combined with his awareness that
certain kinds of psychological problems would be much more likely to
get his security clearance cancelled than others. I won’t go into
such matters further here, but in a future publication I’ll
discuss in detail why he would have felt it necessary to misrepresent
his sexual history and his current symptoms, and why Lindner would have
been eager to believe the stories he offered instead. (Toward the end
of the published case history, Kirk Allen directly confessed to
Lindner, “It’s all a lie, all of it. I’ve been making
it up . . . inventing all that – that – nonsense!”
. But Lindner apparently didn’t explore the pervasiveness of
such lying throughout the course of treatment, or Kirk’s reasons
for doing it.)
8.) But what about John Carter as an alternative identity for Kirk Allen, instead of Paul Linebarger?
The most literal version of the “John
Carter” alternative is to assume that Kirk Allen really was a
nuclear physicist with the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, and that
his name really was John Carter. I’ve heard from several people
in the sf world – honorable and trustworthy people – that a
friend of a friend told them that somebody named John Carter had
claimed to be the patient, that he was a nuclear physicist, etc., etc.
Such reports never reach the point of the “real” John
Carter having had a father who was actually a Commodore, etc., etc.
– but some fans still insist, via the Internet and otherwise,
that the real Kirk Allen was a physicist named John Carter.
The main problem with this position, other than its
reflecting badly on Robert Lindner’s ability to disguise a
patient’s identity, is that it is factually untenable. As Lee
Weinstein and I have found in our independent investigations, no
scientist of any kind in the Manhattan Project was named John Carter or
anything close. Early in my research I did locate a physicist named
John Carter, who was roughly the right age to have been Kirk Allen. But
in our correspondence he insisted believably that he had never had any
contact with Lindner, and was never in the right place at the right
time to be analyzed by him. Further, this John Carter said, he had read
the case history of Kirk Allen some time before I contacted him and had
recognized that the “clues” seemed to point to the
patient’s real name being John Carter. So this John Carter
checked among his contacts in the physical sciences, trying to find
another John Carter who could have been Kirk Allen – and he
failed to do so.
9.) Couldn’t there have been a scientist
with another name, somehow involved in the Manhattan Project, maybe in
Oak Ridge instead of Los Alamos, maybe differing in other minor ways
from a literal interpretation of Lindner’s “clues,”
who was Kirk Allen?
Maybe. That possibility has so far kept me from
publishing a scholarly paper on Paul Linebarger as Kirk Allen: the
possibility that some day somebody not named John Carter will pop up,
claiming to be the real Kirk Allen, and will make a convincing case for
himself. Recently something like that appeared to have happened. Last
year Lee Weinstein alerted me to a passage in a book by a Harvard
clinical psychologist named Deirdre Barrett:
The most bizarre of the cases set forth by analyst Robert Lindner in his 1954 classic, The Fifty-Minute Hour,
is a physicist with delusions that he is from a distant solar system.
He is portrayed in the book as having been cured by analysis. In fact,
for the remainder of his life, he experienced the same manic-depressive
episodes. . . . I happen to know the postscript of this case only
because I grew up in the government research town that housed the
nuclear laboratory where this severely disturbed man had helped to
develop the atomic bomb. His reputed analytic “cure” was a
source of some amusement there because remarkably decorative maps of
his planet of origin – drawn long after his analysis by Lindner
– still hung on the walls of private residences and in the city
art gallery. [The Pregnant Man, xv]
Was this the real Kirk Allen at last? While Lee
Weinstein pursued this apparent lead with his library research skills
and among “outsider” art dealers, I got in touch with
Deirdre Barrett by e-mail, then went to Oak Ridge for two days of
intensive interviewing and archival exploration. The net result of our
joint pursuit of this Oak Ridge physicist/artist, with the help of
Deirdre Barrett plus the Oak Ridge Art Center Director, the recently
retired editor of the local newspaper, and the combined efforts of Oak
Ridge’s arts and sciences establishments: zero. Dr.
Barrett’s memories of 25 years earlier remained firm with regard
to seeing one planetary map, exhibited by a local collector at the Art
I’m sure the note by the colorful map
said its owner lived in Oak Ridge and had worked with the scientist
who’d painted it. It described this scientist as periodically
believing he was from another planet and always drawing maps of the
planet at those times. . . . I got the impression the scientist had
worked in Oak Ridge but don’t remember whether the card actually
stated that or whether I assumed it because the owner [of the map] had
long resided there. I’m a little vaguer on the indication that
he’d been written about in a case study book, but I believe I
asked the woman tending the exhibit what else she knew about it and she
told me the owner said this scientist was in a famous book. [D.
Barrett, personal communication, April 8, 2001]
But nobody else in Oak Ridge recalled the map, and Leah
Marcum-Estes, the Art Center Director, found no trace of it in the
Center’s records. “Outsider art” magazines and books
and dealers offered a variety of works depicting UFOs and aliens, but
none by the man we were seeking.
Then Lee Weinstein came across another “alternate
identity” for Kirk Allen – or maybe it was the same man
who’d been Deirdre Barrett’s map artist. A conversation on
the Net among several UFO enthusiasts with backgrounds in physics
mentioned having heard of an unidentified physicist who had worked at
Los Alamos and whose desk drawers had been full of notes on his
experiences as a UFO abductee to other planets. Somebody then
identified this man as a specific Los Alamos physicist whose family
background sounded like Kirk Allen’s on at least a couple of key
points. The UFO enthusiasts then concluded that he was the patient in
the case of “The Jet-Propelled Couch.”
Lee and I quickly joined forces in tracking down
further information about this Los Alamos physicist. His name was not
John Carter, but he appeared to be the best alternative to
Paul-Linebarger-as-Kirk-Allen that anyone had proposed. He turned out
to be still alive, nearly half a century after the case history was
first published, so we were able to contact him directly. His response
to our main question was clear: No, he had never been a patient of
Robert Lindner. Well, we asked, had he perhaps been treated by another
psychotherapist, whose description of him Lindner could have used in
writing up the case history for publication? No, he had not been
treated by any psychotherapist prior to the publication of
Lindner’s book. Furthermore (as we determined from other
sources), he had never worked on the Manhattan Project and had not
moved to Los Alamos until the early 1950s—too late, by any
reasonable time frame, to be the patient Lindner described as being
sent from there to Baltimore for a lengthy psychoanalysis.
10.) Is there any trace of Linebarger’s treatment by Lindner in Cordwainer Smith’s fiction?
Several CS stories involve psychotherapists – especially Norstrilia, where Old Earth’s last clinical psychologist successfully treats the hero, Rod McBan. But by the time Norstrilia
and most other CS stories were written, Linebarger had been treated by
a series of psychotherapists, and it’s impossible to identify a
specific real-life model for any of his fictional therapists.
However, one of the broadest tropes of the CS stories
may reflect Linebarger’s experience with Lindner, as well as his
later perspective on Lindner’s transformation of his case into
“The Jet-Propelled Couch.” The CS future-history stories
are often told as if from a more distant future, where the great events
and personalities of that future’s past have been transformed
into legend. We are given to know that those legendary accounts of the
central characters’ lives are half-truths at best. Had he been
the patient, Linebarger would have regarded Lindner’s published
version of Kirk Allen’s symptoms and personal history in much the
One other element of the CS oeuvre may be salient here too. Paul Linebarger’s original title for his novel Norstrilia was Star-Craving Mad.
That title is clever or silly, depending on your tolerance for puns,
but it does not describe the contents of the manuscripts that
eventually became Norstrilia. Rod McBan doesn’t crave
the stars; he isn’t even particularly interested in leaving his
home planet of Norstrilia to visit Old Earth; and he isn’t mad,
just a bit neurotic. The title does, however, encapsulate Robert
Lindner’s picture of Kirk Allen. In the form of a silly pun, it
pokes fun at that picture. As a self-description of Paul Linebarger, it
is at best an ironic exaggeration of his interest in SF and in
11.) So what are your conclusions at this point?
Though I have yet to come across solid documentary
evidence, I think the circumstantial evidence (including but extending
well beyond Leon Stover’s recollections) is strong: Paul
Linebarger was Kirk Allen, or at least a substantial component of Kirk
Allen. It’s still possible that Robert Lindner combined two
patients who suffered from apparently similar symptoms, better to
conceal the identities of both and to make his main points about
therapeutic technique more strongly. That other patient may yet pop up,
and I’d like to hear about him if any reader knows him (or is
him). Meanwhile, I’m working to finish my biography of Paul
Linebarger. With or without the help of Robert Lindner, he became a
great science fiction writer and a remarkable, fascinating man.
Aldiss, Brian W. Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction. New York: Doubleday, 1973. Page citation refers to Schocken Books reprint, 1974.
Barrett, Deirdre. The Pregnant Man and Other Cases from a Hypnotherapist’s Couch. New York: Times Books, 1998.
Dille, Robert C. (ed.) The Collected Works of Buck Rogers in the Twenty-Fifth Century, revised edition. New York: A & W Publishers, 1977.
Hamilton, Edmond. The Star Kings. Magazine publication, Amazing Stories, September 1947. Book publication, Frederick Fell, New York, 1949.
Hamilton, Edmond. Return to the Stars. New York: Lancer Books, 1969.
Lindner, Robert. The Fifty-Minute Hour. New York: Holt, Rinehart, 1955. Page citations refer to most recent reprint edition: Other Press, New York, 1999.
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Alan C. Elms
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