Physiognomy Works!

by Ahmed A. Khan


I was thirty one, working as a software engineer and married for two years to one of the prettiest girls in town, when a drunk driver hit my car head on while I was returning home from work.

I was hospitalized for two weeks. There were no broken limbs or any other serious damage to the body except that slivers from the shattered windshield had disfigured my face considerably.

On my last day at the hospital, I was visited by my friend, Dr. James Mannering.

“I could give you a brand new face,” my friend offered. Jim was the top plastic surgeon in town.

I am a complacent guy by nature. I am also uncomfortable with any invasive medical procedures. “I don’t care much about my face,” I informed him. “Inside, I am still me.”

Jim shrugged. “You are still young. You may need your pretty face one of these days, at least to please your wife.”

“Jenna loves me and not my pretty face,” I replied.

I was wrong. Two months later, Jenna left me.

I noticed that people at work kept themselves at arm’s length, though they tried their best to show that my disfigured face was not turning them off.

So here I was, in Jim’s office, swallowing my pride and asking him to give me back my pretty face after all.

Jim looked at me thoughtfully.

“What yuh staring at, bub?” I did an adequate impression of a famous comic book character. That is one of the ways I react to stress. I start fooling around.

“I have a theory that I would like to test on you – with your permission, of course.”

“Making me a guinea pig?”

“It won’t harm you in any way. I guarantee.”

“Explain,” I said.

“Are you a good judge of character?”

“I have to be, in my position as the recruitment officer of my corporation.”

“Can you tell if a person is intelligent, honest and friendly just by looking at the face?”

“In many cases, yes.”


That made me think. I thought and I thought but couldn’t come up with a specific answer. So finally, I shrugged and said : “I don’t know.”

“Have you heard of physiognomy?”


“Well, it is a way of judging the character of a person based on his or her facial features. It was an accepted practice in ancient Greece but has been relegated to pseudoscience status in modern times. I have done a bit of research and it is my opinion that at least some facial features are definitely correlated to character traits.”


“So what if we modify a facial feature? Would it lead to a modification of a character trait?”

I was intrigued. “What do you want to do with me?”

“What I would like is to make your face an exact replica of the face of another person and see if your character traits change to reflect the personality of the model.”

That gave me a pause.

“Interesting idea,” I said at last.

“So will you cooperate?”

“Why not? I am intrigued.”

“Well then, who would you like to be?”

I picked up a piece of scrap paper, pulled out my pen and started doodling on it. I tend to do it automatically when I am in deep thought.

“Let’s see,” I mused. “I always wanted to be a writer. Can you think of a good writer? Someone who was popular, intelligent, and of good disposition. Oh, and of course he should not be bad to look at.”

“Wow! When go out you go all out, don’t you? Anything else?”

“I think it would avoid a lot of confusion if that writer also happened to be dead.”

“Good thinking. Now let us look at some possibilities.”

For the next quarter of an hour we bandied names.

“Shakespeare?” he suggested.

“No. All we have about his appearance are artists’ representations. Who knows how accurate these are.”


“I said a writer not a poet.”

“Bernard Shaw?”

“Good looking?”



Suddenly Jim snapped his fingers. “I have just the person. Isaac Asimov.”

“The famous science fiction writer? I’ve heard about him but never read any of his books. I am not into SF, you know.”

“So what do you think?”

“Hmm! Do you have his picture around?”

“Let me see if I can find a picture of him on the Net.”

It did not take long. There were several pictures of him. Jim selected and enlarged a picture showing him when he was young. I looked at the face staring at me from the computer screen. The guy had been quite good looking.

“I guess he was in his early twenties when this photo was taken,” Jim said.

“Okay, then make me look twentyish once again. I don’t mind looking ten years younger than I am now.”

The operation was a success.

I resumed my normal life. Jim called almost every day to find out if I found any changes in my personality, my likes and dislikes. As a matter of fact, even I was curious to know if I would change into something that I was not.

One day, hardly a couple of weeks after the change of face, I felt an irresistible urge to write. Jim’s theory seemed to be working.

I sat down at my computer, and started my word processor application. While I looked at the blank page on the screen, strange and wonderful ideas seemed to invade my mind. My hands flew on the keyboard. Words seemed to flow smoothly, effortlessly – from my brain through my fingertips on the keyboard to the computer screen. Very soon, I had the complete story.

I felt drained and elated at the same time – the way one feels after a session of great lovemaking. I went back to the beginning and re-read the story I had just written. My elation increased as I read on. It was a beautiful story – highly interesting, well-crafted, and it put forward a unique concept. I was sure that I had written a masterpiece.

The story was about a planet with multiple suns where night fell only once in several hundred years.


Ahmed A. Khan is a Canadian writer, originally from India, who has sold works to Boston Review, Strange Horizons, Interzone, Anotherealm, Kanstellation, etc. His stories have been translated into German, Finnish, Greek, Croatian, Polish and Urdu. Links to some of his published works can be found at