The Long Arm of Gil Hamilton
Larry Niven

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Death by Ecstasy
The Defenceless Dead
AFTERWORD: The Last Word About SF Detectives


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Death by Ecstasy

Copyright © 1969 (as “The Organleggers”) by Galaxy Publishing Corp.

Note (Hal’s):
I’m glad to read that Niven found the ending of this story pretty unsettling when he wrote it, because it hit me that way when I read it. This one story gets ranked among my favorites; the others in this series aren’t bad, but they’re not quite as intense.

— end note

Belters think flatlanders are all crooks. They don’t understand that to a flatlander, picking pockets is a game of skill. Yet a Belter sees smuggling as the same kind of game, with no dishonesty involved. He balances the thirty percent tariff against possible confiscation of his cargo, and if the odds are right he gambles.



New technologies create new customs, new laws, new ethics, new crimes. [...] The crime of organlegging was the result of thousands of years of medical progress, of millions of lives selflessly dedicated to the ideal of healing the sick. Progress had brought these ideals to reality, and, as usual, had created new problems.



The world’s billions wanted to live, and the organ banks were life itself. A man could live forever as long as the doctors could shove spare parts into him faster than his own parts wore out. But they could do that only as long as the world’s organ banks were stocked.

A hundred scattered movements to abolish the death penalty died silent, unpublicized deaths. Everybody gets sick sometime.

And still there were shortages in the organ banks. Still patients died for the lack of parts to save them. The world’s legislators had responded to steady pressure from the world’s people. Death penalties were established for first, second, and third degree murder. For assault with a deadly weapon. Then for a multitude of crimes: rape, fraud, embezzlement, having children without a license, four or more counts of false advertising. For nearly a century the trend had been growing, as the world’s voting citizens acted to protect their right to live forever.


Capital punishment

A current addict has an advantage over his supplier. Electricity is cheap. With a drug, your supplier can always raise the price on you; but not with electricity. You see the ecstasy merchant once, when he sells you your operation and your droud, and never again. Nobody gets hooked by accident. There’s an honesty to current addiction. The customer always knows just what he’s getting into, and what it will do for him—and to him.



Happiness is beautiful, all by itself. A happy person is beautiful, per se.



“He blew the whole battery at once. Sent the whole killing charge right through his brain, right through the pleasure center of his brain. And, Jesus, Gil, the thing I keep wondering is, what did it feel like? Gil, what could it possibly have felt like?”

I thumped him across the shoulders in lieu of giving him an intelligent answer. He’d be a long time wondering. And so would I.

[...] Had his death been momentary Hell, or all the delights of paradise in one singing jolt? Hell, I hoped, but I didn’t believe it.

There are times not to make a phone call. I needed to sulk; I needed a cave to be alone in. My expression would probably have broken a phone screen. Why inflict it on an innocent girl?

Who had gone into Loren’s organ banks? Stranger, acquaintance, friend? Does the manager of a slaughterhouse remember every slaughtered steer?

text checked (see note) Jan 2006

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The Defenceless Dead

Copyright © 1973 by Fawcett Publications

“People used to call them corpsicles, frozen dead. Or Homo snapiens. You can imagine what would happen if you dropped one.”


Suspended animation

People had started to disappear from stalled vehicles, singles apartment houses, crowded city slidewalks.

Earth wanted the organleggers back.

No, that wasn’t fair. Put it this way: enough citizens wanted to extend their own lives, at any cost . . .

We spent a good deal of computer time looking for unexplained money. The average criminal tends to think that once he’s got the money, he’s home free, the game is over.



“Now we don’t even have prisons. The organ banks are always short. As soon as the UN votes the death penalty for a crime, most people stop committing it. Naturally.”

“So we get the death penalty for having children without a license, or cheating on income tax, or running too many red traffic lights. Luke, I’ve seen what it does to people to keep voting more and more death penalties. They lose their respect for life.”

“But the other situation was just as bad, Gil. Don’t forget it.”

“So now we’ve got the death penalty for being poor.”


Capital punishment

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Copyright © 1975 by Robert Silverberg and Roger Elwood

“Want to try it?”

“Sure,” I said.

Heart to brain: THUD! What’re you doing? You’ll get us all killed! I knew we should never have put you in charge of things . . .

“Being grateful for fifty years could get on a man’s nerves. It’s not a natural emotion.”

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The Last Word About SF Detectives

Copyright © 1976 by Larry Niven

Even John W. Campbell, editor of Analog, said it couldn’t be done. Campbell was often right. This time he irritated a writer named Hal Clement into writing the first detective science-fiction novel . . . to Campbell’s intense satisfaction.

The trouble is that there are two sets of rules to be followed.

A detective story is a puzzle. In theory at least, the reader can know what crime was committed, by whom, and how and where and why, before he is given the answer. There must be only one possible answer. Enough data must have been given to make it obviously true.

Science fiction is an exercise in imagination. It should be believable, granted; but a believable story can be dull. In general, the more interesting an idea, the less it needs to be justified. A story is judged on its internal consistency and the reach of the author’s imagination. Strange backgrounds, odd societies following odd laws, unfamiliar values and ways of thinking are the rule.

Now, how can the reader anticipate the author if all the rules are strange?

Detective and science fiction (and fantasy and crime fiction) do have a lot in common. Readers, for one: both genres attract readers who like a challenge, a puzzle. Whether it’s the odd disappearance of a weapon (a glass dagger hidden in a flower vase of water) or the incomprehensibly violent behavior of a visiting alien (he needs a rest room, bad), the basic question is What’s going on? The reader is entitled to his chance to out-think the author.

I generally write more than one story set in a given future. It isn’t laziness. Honest, it isn’t laziness. It’s just that, having designed a detailed, believable, even probable future, I often find that I have more to say about it than will fit in one story.



The organ bank problem used to scare me. The internal logic seems so rigid. But if it were that obvious, the Red Cross would have been finding its blood donors on Death Row, five quarts to a donor, since 1940 A.D. That has not been happening. Perhaps I’m making a big deal out of nothing.

Maybe it only took someone to point out the advantages. In which case blame it all on Larry Niven.

text checked (see note) Jan 2006

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