The Little Black Bag

"The Little Black Bag" is a science fiction short story by American Cyril M. Kornbluth, first published in the July 1950 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. It is a predecessor of sorts to the story "The Marching Morons". It won the 2001 Retroactive Hugo Award for Best Novelette (of 1951) and was also recognized as the 13th best all-time short science fiction story in a 1971 Analog Science Fact & Fiction poll, tied with "Microcosmic God" by Theodore Sturgeon.[1] It was among the stories selected in 1970 by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the best science fiction short stories published before the creation of the Nebula Awards. As such, it was published in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964.

It was the basis of episodes (using the same title) in three television series: Tales of Tomorrow in 1952, Out of the Unknown in 1969 and Night Gallery in 1970.

"The Little Black Bag"
AuthorCyril M. Kornbluth
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published inAstounding Science Fiction
Publication typeMagazine
Publication date1950

Plot summary

In the future, humanity has split into a small minority of supergeniuses and those of normal intelligence, and a much larger group of dimwits, as described in "The Marching Morons". The geniuses masquerade as assistants to the morons, the better to covertly manage them and keep them out of trouble.

A "physicist" goads his minder into giving him specifications for a time machine. The faux physicist builds it, and uses it to send a "doctor" friend's highly automated medical kit into the past (our present), where it is found by Dr. Full, a physician who has succumbed to alcoholism and fallen to the bottom level of society. At first attributing its advanced properties and unfamiliar components to medical advances made since he last practiced, he uses it to heal a seriously injured young child. The patient's cynical eighteen-year-old sister, Angie, discovers the patent application date on one of the instruments (2450) and is quick to grasp the financial opportunities. She blackmails Full into taking her on as a partner.

The responsibility helps Full recover from his alcoholism, and he is soon running a respectable clinic curing mankind's ills with amazing success, although Angie wants to specialize in the more lucrative plastic surgery. When Angie learns that Full intends to turn the bag over to the medical establishment for the good of humanity, she grabs it and tries to leave. In the ensuing scuffle, the instruments spill out. Without thinking, Angie stabs Full with a scalpel, killing him. Initially shocked, she quickly recovers and disposes of the body using a small incinerating device used for tumors. Full had taught her how to use the kit, so she sees no obstacle to continuing to treat rich patients.

Her first patient sees the sharp instruments and balks at another treatment. To reassure her, Angie demonstrates their safety by running a scalpel through her arm without harm. Still unconvinced, the client requests another test. Back in the future, a technician notes the bag has been used for murder and deactivates its advanced functions. Angie runs what has just become an ordinary scalpel across her own throat, with fatal results.


  1. ^ "Astounding/Analog All-Time Poll Listings". The Locus Index to SF Awards. 2008. Archived from the original on October 23, 2007. Retrieved 2008-06-23.

External links

Cyril M. Kornbluth

Cyril M. Kornbluth (July 2, 1923 – March 21, 1958) was an American science fiction author and a member of the Futurians. He used a variety of pen-names, including Cecil Corwin, S. D. Gottesman, Edward J. Bellin, Kenneth Falconer, Walter C. Davies, Simon Eisner, Jordan Park, Arthur Cooke, Paul Dennis Lavond, and Scott Mariner. The "M" in Kornbluth's name may have been in tribute to his wife, Mary Byers; Kornbluth's colleague and collaborator Frederik Pohl confirmed Kornbluth's lack of any actual middle name in at least one interview.

Eyes of Amber

"Eyes of Amber" is a science fiction short story by American writer Joan D. Vinge. It was first published as the cover story for the June 1977 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

Gold (short story)

"Gold" is a short story by American writer Isaac Asimov. It originally appeared in the September 1991 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact and was collected in the eponymous volume Gold. One of the last short stories he wrote in his life, it won a Hugo Award for best Novelette in 1992.

Legions in Time

"Legions in Time" is a science fiction novelette by Michael Swanwick, originally published in the April 2003 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette in 2004. The story was reprinted in Science Fiction: The Best of 2003 and in three other collections and anthologies.

Swanwick wrote that his story was inspired by A. E. Van Vogt's "Recruiting Station", which just speeds along like racehorse afire, and thought I'd try to write something similar."

Medical bag

A medical bag (doctor's bag, physician's bag) is a portable bag used by a physician or other medical professional to transport medical supplies and medicine.Traditionally, the medical bag was made of leather, opened on the top with a split-handle design. During the American Civil War, physician's medical saddle bags were used. Modern medical bags are made of various materials and come in various designs that can include many pockets, pouches, and zippered or hook-and-loop openings.

Indigenous North American medicine men and shamans use a medicine bag. A battle bag is used in the military.

Permafrost (story)

"Permafrost" is a science fiction novelette by American writer Roger Zelazny, published in 1986.

Shoggoths in Bloom

"Shoggoths in Bloom" is a science fiction novelette by Elizabeth Bear, originally published in the March 2008 issue of American magazine Asimov's Science Fiction, and subsequently republished in Bear's 2012 collection "Shoggoths in Bloom".

Slow Life (novelette)

"Slow Life" is a science fiction novelette by American writer Michael Swanwick, originally published in the December 2002 issue of Analog Science Fiction. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette in 2003.

The story is set on Titan. The author wrote: "I liked Titan specifically because there was a lot known about its chemistry and geography, but most people were not familiar with it, so a story set there would feel fresh to them."

Taklamakan (short story)

"Taklamakan" is a short story by American writer Bruce Sterling. The story follows a government contracted spy and his coworker as they enter the Taklamakan Desert to explore and substantiate rumors about a group of Chinese habitats that simulate generation ships in a cave under the Taklamakan Desert. It won the 1999 Hugo Award for Best Novelette as well as the 1999 Foreign Short Story Hayakawa Award.

The Cloak and the Staff

"The Cloak and the Staff" is a science fiction novelette by American writer Gordon R. Dickson. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novelette in 1981.

The Deathbird

"The Deathbird" is a novelette by American writer Harlan Ellison. It won the 1974 Hugo Award for Best Novelette and Locus Award for Best Short Story.

It has been included in the author's short story collection Deathbird Stories.

The Djinn's Wife

"The Djinn's Wife" is a 2006 science fiction short story by British writer Ian McDonald. It was first published in Asimov's Science Fiction.

The Faery Handbag

"The Faery Handbag" is a fantasy novelette by American writer Kelly Link, published in 2004.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars

"The Lady Astronaut of Mars" is an alternate history/science fiction short story by Mary Robinette Kowal. It was first published in 2012 as part of the anthology Rip-Off.

The Marching Morons

For the Kornbluth short story collection, see The Marching Morons (collection)

"The Marching Morons" is a science fiction story by American writer Cyril M. Kornbluth, originally published in Galaxy in April 1951. It was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two after being voted one of the best novellas up to 1965.

The story follows John Barlow, who was put into suspended animation by a freak accident involving a dental drill and anesthesia. Barlow is revived hundreds of years in the future. The world seems mad to Barlow until he discovers the 'Problem of Population': due to a combination of intelligent people not having children and excessive breeding by less intelligent people and coupled with the development of more sophisticated machinery that makes it less important to possess intelligence in one's working life (see Fertility and intelligence), the world is full of morons, with the exception of an elite few who work slavishly to keep order. Barlow, who was a shrewd real estate con man in his day, has a solution to sell to the elite, in exchange for being made World Dictator.

The Nutcracker Coup

"The Nutcracker Coup" is a 1992 science fiction short story by Janet Kagan. It was first published in Asimov's Science Fiction.

The Secret Life of Bots

"The Secret Life of Bots" is a 2017 science fiction story by Suzanne Palmer. It was first published in Clarkesworld.

The Tomato Thief

"The Tomato Thief" is a 2016 fantasy novelette by Ursula Vernon. It was first published in Apex Magazine.

Unicorn Variation

"Unicorn Variation" is a 1981 fantasy story by American writer Roger Zelazny. It was first published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine.

Retro Hugos

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.