Odd John (subtitled A Story Between Jest and Earnest) deals with one of the most pervasive questions of science fiction: How will humanity react when confronted with a being of superior intelligence? The narrator is writing a biography of John Wainwright, a mutant who represents the next step of evolution, Homo superior.
The narrator begins by describing John’s odd appearance, precocious intelligence, and early education. Too disruptive to attend school, “Odd” John masters specific subjects, such as mathematics and biology, as they interest him. When a neighborhood boy beats John, the young prodigy becomes obsessed with two ambitions: to become physically powerful and to “understand his fellow human beings.” He attains the first ambition, using his strength to thrash the boy who hurt him.
The second ambition leads him to realize the need for money. Now nine years old, he turns first to burglary. After committing a series of unsolved crimes, he is caught in the act by a policeman, but he escapes by murdering the officer. John next earns a small fortune as an inventor of labor-saving devices. He then enlarges his wealth by speculating in stocks.
Now fourteen years old, John devotes himself to social behavior that the narrator describes as outrageous and disgraceful. The narrator also reports that John is growing increasingly bored and disgusted with human beings. Without warning, John disappears...
(The entire section is 476 words.)