The Man Who Was Present – Dmitri Bilenkin

“The Man Who Was Present” (short story) by Dmitri Bilenkin

English Publication History: The Uncertainty Principle (Macmillan, 1978)

Original: Russian (Человек, который присутствовал), 1971

Translated by Antonia W. Bouis, 1978

Synopsis: A bonhomous group of writer friends get together to hammer out stories, some for the better, other for the worse–sometimes they click, sometimes the hammer fails to strike the pin. Tonight, their ideas are falling to gain any traction, that is until a man, whom no one invited, is brought into the house after arriving at the door. No one questions his presence, but suddenly their unique story begins to take shape and, after it’s well honed, shows itself to be a great piece of work… but it also seems that man already left. Everyone is perplexed, but one of the writers comes across the man in public, who says he has a unique gift: he can seek out unique thought and offer his synergistic capacity. He himself doesn’t have an identifiable gift, but it’s presence that seems to kindle imagination.

Analysis: If you’ve ever been in an authentic brainstorm session (an Osborne-esque application of the original idea [1938]), the input can be invigorating and the result, too, can be surprising; however, most people don’t understand what brainstorming is: the “facilitator” shoots down ideas, judges the merits of input, encourages certain lines of predetermined thought, etc. These so-called brainstorms are mere ego sessions for those same so-called facilitators; thus, I usually hate brainstorming. But if only (a classic Asimov story classification) there were someone who could perfectly and truly facilitate these brainstorming sessions in order to direct it to the most unique solution without the ego of the so-called facilitator. Ideas are fluid and deserve an environment that is conducive to its flow like a river delta: bifurcating in a smooth terrain with a time-limited conclusion.

Review: There’s very little to the story other than an “if only” idea with a moderately humanistic finale to give the story a bit of punch where it otherwise would have fell on the reader like a skyborne feather: light, whimsical, and borderline intangible.

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