The Little Black Bag was written by Cyril Kornbluth and originally published in the July, 1950 issue of Astounding Stories, (which, incidentally featured a fact article about the shooting of Destination Moon), accompanied by four interior black and white illustrations and the following editorial introduction:
The normal progress of a technology produces simpler and simpler gadgets involving more and more complex fundamental laws. And, of course, requiring less and less of the user.
Which sounds ominously predictive of our own current circumstances.
Regardless, The Little Black Bag is one of those Campbellian-era science fiction stories that should serve as an exemplar of what the field can do, in its shortened forms, when handled by a master. Its backgrounding/worldbuilding is immense, because Kornbluth drew it with broad strokes, devoid of restrictive detail. Its subject – avarice – (not to mention the common tale of ignorant humans pressing buttons and pulling switches they know not the purpose of) can be easily translated to just about any medium. It’s economy of character and scene makes it a go-to for translation into other media.
It was awarded a Retro Hugo Award in 2001.
In addition to appearing in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame and numerous other collections and anthologies, the story has been adapted for television at least three times and for radio at least twice.
You can read the story in its original publication on the archive.org website – Astounding Stories, July 1950
And you can listen to it on
And you can watch it as an episode of Tales of Tomorrow, Out of the Unknown and Night Gallery
Tales of Tomorrow version
Written by Cyril Kornbluth, based on his story of the same name with additional dialogue written by Mann Rubin
Directed by Charles S. Dubin
Vicki Cummings … Angie Fulbright
Joseph Anthony Joseph Anthony … Dr. Arthur Fulbright
Florence Anglin Florence Anglin … Mrs. Calucci
John Shellie John Shellie … Pawnbroker
Out of the Unknown episodes can be seen on AppleTV+
The Night Gallery episode can be seen on the Night Gallery collection DVDs.