Algis Budrys. The Man Who Always Knew. (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1956).

Read in ‘The Best Science Fiction Stories and Novels 1956. (ed T.E. Dikty, Frederic Fell, 1956).

A story that doesn’t go much beyond the principal conceit : a man has the uncanny knack of knowing just where and when someone is going to have a brainwave or invent something – and therefore be on hand to licence and exploit it.

Bartender Harry is serving his regular customer, Mr. McMahon, known across the world for his inventions and what he has brought to the world.

Interestingly, in her take on the Year’s Best for the same year Judith Merril noted, when introducing one Budrys story of which she approved and included in her book, that she thought of him that ‘he wrote prolifically but seldom at his best’. And this story has a little feel of the author getting a story down quickly, and choosing a conversation at a bar as the mechanism so to do, when a much lengthier narrative could have been employed to tease out the idea (such as McMahon coming up with a moral dilemma when another invention comes his way).

There is a neat ending though, as McMahon, having confided in Harry about his knack, observes as Harry makes what is in fact a happy accident when mixing a cocktail wrongly…

You can read the story in it’s original magazine format at archive.org.

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