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What You Need by Henry Kuttner

What You Need

by Henry Kuttner

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Carmichael, a reporter, happens across a shop called “We have what you need” but can’t figure out what the owner, Peter Talley, is selling. He snoops around and finds out that customers include important people who buy common items for large amounts of money. Carmichael threatens to expose Talley unless Talley sells him something that he “needs”.
Talley sells him a pair of scissors, telling Carmichael only that he must keep the scissors with him at all times. Later, Carmichael’s scarf is caught in machinery and he uses the scissors to cut his scarf and keeps himself from being killed.

Under more pressure from Carmichael, Talley reveals that he has a machine that can see into a person’s future. He uses the machine to detect important and /or important events and sells the customer an item that can be used to prevent the event. Carmichael promises to make no trouble for Talley, as long as Talley continues to sell him things he needs. Talley agrees and sells Carmichael a pair of shoes to wear. Later, Carmichael slips and falls in front of a Train and is killed.

It turns out that Talley looked into his own future and saw that ten years in the future Carmichael would have shot him in the back for his machine. So Talley sold him the slippery shoes rather than the slip-resistant shoes. Talley considers the ethics of his use of power. He has been the machine to improve the futures of good men, and to end the futures of evil men. It is a great responsibility.


The theme “what you need” with the shop and the powerful proprietor is similar to Stephen King’s needful things, except the proprietor is the devil and he reads the customer’s mind to discover what they most want, but will also destroy them.

The theme “what you need” and the common items given to clients who have no idea what they will need the things for until the event when they are actually needed is similar to Philip K. Dick’s ______________________, where the hero wakes up with no memory and only the seemingly random contents of a package to keep him alive and triumph over his enemies.

The theme of looking into the future and punishing somebody for what hasn’t yet occurred is similar to Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report, where the offender is removed and punished even before the potential crime is conscious to the perpetrator.
  thwingr | Oct 29, 2008 |
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