The Little Black Bag

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

"The Little Black Bag" is a science fiction novelette by American Cyril M. Kornbluth, first published in the July 1950 edition of Astounding Science Fiction. 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 October and November 1971 Analog Science Fact & Fiction poll, The Reference Library review article, 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 (which now only exists partially), and Night Gallery in 1970.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

In the future, a "physicist" goads his minder into giving him specifications for a time machine. The faux physicist builds it, using it to send a "doctor" friend's automated medical kit—the titular black bag—into the past, where it is found by Dr. Full, an alcoholic physician who no longer practices medicine. At first attributing it to advances made since he last practiced, he uses it to heal a seriously injured young child. The patient's eighteen-year-old sister, Angie, discovers the patent application date on one of the instruments (2450 A.D.) and grasps the financial opportunities. She blackmails Full into taking her on as a partner.

The responsibility helps Full recover from alcoholism. He is soon running a clinic with the help of Angie, although his patients are blindfolded during procedures. While Full is content to simply treat injuries and illnesses, 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 surgical knife meant for amputations, killing him. Initially shocked, she quickly recovers and disposes of the body. Full had taught Angie how to use the kit, so she proceeds to treat rich patients.

Her first patient sees the sharp instruments and balks at the surgery. To reassure her, Angie demonstrates their safety by running a scalpel through her arm without harm. Unconvinced, the client requests another test. Meanwhile back in 2450 A.D., a technician notes the bag has been used for murder and deactivates it. 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.
  2. ^ "Room with a View/The Little Black Bag/The Nature of the Enemy"—episode of Night Gallery, aired 23 December 1970. Retrieved August 3, 2023.

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