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Lindner, Robert

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1914-1956) US lay psychoanalyst and prison psychologist who reported on his work in the latter capacity in Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath (1944), filmed in 1955. He is of sf interest for "The Jet-Propelled Couch: The Story of Kirk" (December 1954-January 1955 Harper's Magazine), a long narrative essay – later included in The Fifty-Minute Hour: A Collection of True Psychoanalytic Tales (coll 1955; vt The Jet-Propelled Couch and Other True Psychoanalytic Tales 1955) – which absorbingly examines and analyses the sf-based fantasies of a patient he saw in the 1940s, a government "scientist" here called "Kirk Allen" who had retreated from an intolerable childhood, adolescence and adulthood through progressive immersion in an elaborately documented Space-Opera universe, to which he believed he was regularly transported, and where he was the ruler of a rich Planetary-Romance world named Seraneb at the heart of a Galactic Empire. "Kirk"'s imaginative range and narrative skills were of hypnotic depth and extent – in all, Lindner gained access to about 12,000 typescript pages of material, much of which reads like highly competent fiction – and his rationalization of his role in the galaxy was impeccably couched in sf terms, with alternate time-streams playing a considerable role, and clearly suggests an explanation in extremis for sf's imaginative power over adolescents. The closing sentence of Lindner's essay – "How are things in Seraneb?" – became for many readers a touchstone for the Sense of Wonder. A fictional version of the essay was televised on Playhouse 90 in 1957.

It is of interest to note here a relevant effect of Lindner's curative strategy: pretending to enter into his patient's universe with him, he was himself (as he records) fascinated and almost ensnared by it. Roger Zelazny's The Dream Master (1966) develops the implications of Lindner's experience in bravura fashion (see Dream Hacking). Unsurprisingly perhaps – given this engrossing material, and taking into account the period when Lindner was treating "Kirk" – there has been persistent speculation that "Kirk" was in reality Paul E Linebarger, who began to write as Cordwainer Smith in the late 1940s. These speculations have never been disproved, nor have they been confirmed [see Checklist]; the lack of any reference by Lindner to Cordwainer Smith, either in The Fifty-Minute Hour or in any subsequently reported context, may be explained by his death in 1956, after only two Smith stories had been published. [JC]

see also: Paranoia; Psychology.

Robert Mitchell Lindner

born New York: 14 May 1914

died Baltimore, Maryland: 27 February 1956


about the author (and Cordwainer Smith)


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