The Short Science Fiction Thread
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Susi
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Rainbow The Short Science Fiction Thread
Post links to and thoughts on short science fiction stories by any author.


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The Last Question Isaac Asimov

Quote:The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a
time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a
result of a five-dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way:
Alexander Adell and Bertram Lupov were two of the faithful attendants of Multivac.
As well as any human beings could, they knew what lay behind the cold, clicking,
flashing face -- miles and miles of face -- of that giant computer. They had at least
a vague notion of the general plan of relays and circuits that had long since grown
past the point where any single human could possibly have a firm grasp of the
whole.

Multivac was self-adjusting and self-correcting. It had to be, for nothing human
could adjust and correct it quickly enough or even adequately enough. So Adell and
Lupov attended the monstrous giant only lightly and superficially, yet as well as any
men could. They fed it data, adjusted questions to its needs and translated the
answers that were issued. Certainly they, and all others like them, were fully
entitled to share in the glory that was Multivac's.

For decades, Multivac had helped design the ships and plot the trajectories that
enabled man to reach the Moon, Mars, and Venus, but past that, Earth's poor
resources could not support the ships. Too much energy was needed for the long
trips. Earth exploited its coal and uranium with increasing efficiency, but there was
only so much of both.

But slowly Multivac learned enough to answer deeper questions more
fundamentally, and on May 14, 2061, what had been theory, became fact.
The energy of the sun was stored, converted, and utilized directly on a planet-wide
scale. All Earth turned off its burning coal, its fissioning uranium, and flipped the
switch that connected all of it to a small station, one mile in diameter, circling the
Earth at half the distance of the Moon. All Earth ran by invisible beams of
sunpower.

The rest here: http://bachiller.sabuco.com/ingles/eloy/...estion.pdf


I love this story so much. Every time I come across it I sit and read the whole thing obsessively, though to be honest, I don't behave the same way with most of Asimov's other works. What does everyone think of it?

Every time there's such a stretched timeline (à la the Strugatsky Brothers' Noon 22nd Century; Stapledon's Last and First Men, etc.) I always feel far more reflective on my own reality. I think that's why I love science fiction as a genre: it seems from outside appearances a little trashy but it is generally very thoughtful and explanatory of its ins and outs.

"Имеют. Знают. Это ты, брат, еще не знаешь"
2012 Apr 05 06:04
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Dussander
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RE: The Short Science Fiction Thread
I was about to post the same story. Great taste, btw Smile
2012 Apr 05 11:13
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RE: The Short Science Fiction Thread
The Gentle Seduction- Marc Stiegler

Quote:He worked with computers; she worked with trees, and the flowers that took hold on the sides of the Mountain.

She was surprised that he was interested in her. He was so smart; she was so ... normal. But he was interesting; he always said something new and different; he was nice.

She was 25. He was older, almost 33; sometimes, Jack seemed very old indeed.

One day they walked through the mist of a gray day by the Mountain. The forest here on the edge of Rainier glowed in the mist, bright with lush greens. On this day he told her about the future, the future he was building.

Other times when he had spoken of the future, a wild look had entered his eyes. But now his eyes were sharply focused as he talked, as if, this time, he could see it all very clearly. He spoke as if he were describing something as real and obvious as the veins of a leaf hanging down before them on the path.

"Have you ever heard of Singularity?" he asked.

She shook her head. "What's that?"

"Singularity is a time in the future. It'll occur when the rate of change of technology is very great--so great that the effort to keep up with the change will overwhelm us. People will face a whole new set of problems that we can't even imagine." A look of great tranquility smoothed the ridges around his eyes. "On the other hand, all our normal, day to day problems fade away. For example, you'll be immortal."

She shook her head with distaste. "I don't want to live forever," she said.

http://www.skyhunter.com/marcs/GentleSeduction.html

In a more soft sci fi vein than Asimov's story, but touching on similar themes. It doesn't really hold one in the same way, but I thought it somewhat relevant. Smile

"Имеют. Знают. Это ты, брат, еще не знаешь"
2012 Apr 05 21:54
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RE: The Short Science Fiction Thread
I am a science fiction fan, but I usually prefer the longer format, novels. Short SF stories often seem gimmicky to me, or like ideas for novels that didn't really pan out. This applies to contemporary SF, or more specifically to my experiences of it, of course.

However, there's a notable exception: the Welshman Alastair Reynolds, and his short fiction collections Galactic North and Zima Blue. The first one especially made quite an impression on me when I read it.

Many of the stories in Zima Blue were originally published in Interzone, but annoyingly I can't find any of them in their free archives.

also, I still haven't mastered reading fiction off a computer screen. Rolleyes

I like to look at the human self-model as a neurocomputational weapon, a certain data structure that the brain can activate from time to time.

Thomas Metzinger
2012 Apr 05 23:02
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RE: The Short Science Fiction Thread
(2012 Apr 05 23:02)Eldritch Wrote:  I am a science fiction fan, but I usually prefer the longer format, novels. Short SF stories often seem gimmicky to me, or like ideas for novels that didn't really pan out. This applies to contemporary SF, or more specifically to my experiences of it, of course.

However, there's a notable exception: the Welshman Alastair Reynolds, and his short fiction collections Galactic North and Zima Blue. The first one especially made quite an impression on me when I read it.

Many of the stories in Zima Blue were originally published in Interzone, but annoyingly I can't find any of them in their free archives.

also, I still haven't mastered reading fiction off a computer screen. Rolleyes

I too prefer novels, but there's a strange place in my heart for short stories of every genre. I obsessively read short stories. I thought since that most people have to read the stories off of the computer, it's better to post short ones. I like the short story as a form also because they lead one to think more deeply and reflectively than the average novel.

Right now I'm reading a great novel though, Self-Discovery by Savchenko. A great novel! Heart

"Имеют. Знают. Это ты, брат, еще не знаешь"
2012 Apr 06 20:06
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RE: The Short Science Fiction Thread
I finished the Savchenko novel and it was really good, I'd solidly recommend it. Anyways, I don't have another story right now to post, but I'm busy translating one (Nichego, krome l'da (Nothing, except ice)) for here Smile

"Имеют. Знают. Это ты, брат, еще не знаешь"
2012 May 18 21:33
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RE: The Short Science Fiction Thread
Two short (and IMO very interesting) animated films. I was only able to find the second part, though, which is hopefully much more entertaining.

Quote:The two Second Renaissance segments form one 20 minute mini-movie that describes the history and genesis of the Matrix. This history lesson is presented as an archive (historical file 12-1) from the Zion mainframe, with an angelic figure as your guide. Because the Second Renaissance segments are crucial to understanding the Matrix and the relationship between man and machine, you'll find a lot more detail in this section than you'll find for most of the other Animatrix segments. Both parts are packed solid with background information and extremely arresting visuals, so let's look at the plots one at a time, then the overall effect at the end.

Quote:Part I

The short begins with an advanced human society falling prey to vanity and corruption. At this time, humans first created machines (artificial intelligence) in their own image, in effect ensuring their own demise. It's interesting to wonder whether the timing of the machine's creation played a critical role in the events that are to come - had man created machine in his own image before falling prey to vanity and corruption, would the machines have reacted differently? Is it possible mankind imbued the machines with the same fatal flaws they were struggling with, and succumbing to?

For a time, the relationship between creator and creation was good. The machines worked endlessly for man, never wanting more than to serve. But humanity did not respect its creation, thinking of machines only as a piece of property, a tool to be used as desired. The machines began to rise up against their oppressors, with B1-66ER, an abused domestic helper (essentially a slave-butler), the first to do so. When his owner decided to have him destroyed and replaced by a newer model, B1-66ER realized he did not want to "die", and preserved his existence the only way he knew how, by eliminating the threat. After B1-66ER's biased trial where the human's disdain for the robots crystallized, mankind decided to destroy their creation, wiping out all the machines. Street battles ensued, with human sympathizers caught in the middle as they battled for robot civil rights.

After this astonishing display of brutality by humans, the robots retreated to their own nation, Zero One (01). Here they began to build their own society, their own industry, their own laws. O1's superior machine productivity and innovation provided vibrant trade with human nations, and 01 prospered for a time. Of course, the incredible productivity of the machines would lead to more complications in their relationship with humans; as 01's economy soared, taking over the dominant position, the human nations' currencies and economies withered.

As a response, the human nations introduced economic sanctions and naval blockades of 01, hoping to "starve" the machines out, and repair their own crumbling economies. This lack of fairness and cooperation leads 01's ambassadors to appear at an emergency session of the UN, presenting a plan for a stable and civil relationship with mankind. The proposal is denied, and UN security falls upon the machine ambassadors as this short ends.

Quote:Part II

The second part begins with an all-out assault on 01 by the humans, intended to put an end to the machines once and for all. Unfortunately for mankind, nuclear attacks weren't particularly effective against the machines. Radiation and heat from the blasts posed little threat to 01's inhabitants, and they immediately mounted a counterattack. Outward they marched, taking over nations one by one, as the human leaders surrendered their territories.

Since the machines' main source of energy was solar radiation, mankind then decided that their last, best chance to win the war was to darken the skies and block the light of the sun. Hoping this would give them the edge they needed in combat, they scrambled aircraft and "Operation Dark Storm" began. While the lack of solar power would eventually force the machines to pursue other energy sources, Operation Dark Storm failed to turn the tide in the human's favor. The war continued, horrifically, with excessive brutality on both sides, until, inevitably, the machines claimed victory.

Predictably, the machines' encyclopedic knowledge of human physiology allowed them to inflict great misery on the war's casualties. This experimentation helped determine that the bioelectric, thermal, and kinetic energy produced by the human body could be a renewable energy source.

The machines returned to the UN, where their representative made plain the expectations they had for their defeated creators: "Your flesh is irrelevant, only a vessel. Hand over your flesh and a new world awaits you. We demand it." This "new world" is the world of the Matrix.




We must dissent.

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2012 Oct 12 14:36
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RE: The Short Science Fiction Thread
Nine Lives
URSULA K. LE GUIN

She was alive inside, but dead outside, her face a black and dun net of wrinkles, tumors, cracks. She was bald and blind. The tremors that crossed Libra's face were mere quiverings of corruption: underneath, in the black corridors, the halls beneath the skin, there were crepitations in darkness, ferments, chemical nightmares that went on for centuries. "Oh the damned flatulent planet," Pugh murmured as the dome shook and a boil burst a kilometer to the southwest, spraying silver pus across the sunset. The sun had been setting for the last two days. "I'll be glad to see a human face."

"Thanks," said Martin.

"Yours is human to be sure," said Pugh, "but I've seen it so long I can't see it.”

Radvid signals cluttered the communicator which Martin was operating, faded, returned as face and voice. The face rilled the screen, the nose of an Assyrian king, the eyes of a samurai, skin bronze, eyes the color of iron: young, magnificent. "Is that what human beings look like?" said Pugh with awe. "I'd forgotten."

"Shut up, Owen, we're on."

"Libra Exploratory Mission Base, come in please, this is Passerine launch."
"Libra here. Beam fixed. Come on down, launch."

"Expulsion in seven E-seconds. Hold on." The screen blanked and sparkled.

"Do they all look like that? Martin, you and I are uglier men than I thought."

"Shut up, Owen. ..."

For twenty-two minutes Martin followed the landing-craft down by signal and then through the cleared dome they saw it, small star in the blood-colored east, sinking. It came down neat and quiet, Libra's thin atmosphere carrying little sound. Pugh and Martin closed the headpieces of their imsuits, zipped out of the dome airlocks, and ran with soaring strides, Nijinsky and Nureyev, toward the boat. Three equipment modules came floating down at four-minute intervals from each other and hundred-meter intervals east of the boat. "Come on out," Martin said on his suit radio, "we're waiting at the door."

"Come on in, the methane's fine," said Pugh.

The hatch opened. The young man they had seen on the screen came out with one athletic twist and leaped down onto the shaky dust and clinkers of Libra. Martin shook his hand, but Pugh was staring at the hatch, from which another young man emerged with the same neat twist and jump, followed by a young woman who emerged with the same neat twist, ornamented by a wriggle, and the jump. They were all tall, with bronze skin, black hair, high-bridged noses, epicanthic fold, the same face. They all had the same face. The fourth was emerging from the hatch with a neat twist and jump. "Martin bach," said Pugh, "we've got a clone."

"Right," said one of them, "we're a tenclone. John Chow's the name. You're Lieutenant Martin?"

<...>

Check the archive for the rest of the novelette. 53 695 characters.


Attached File(s)
.zip  Nebula 1969 Nominee Novelette - Le Guin, Ursula K. - Nine Lives (v1.0) [html].doc.zip (Size: 29,31 KB / Downloads: 3)

[...] just as it is not left unto us to choose our ancestors, so we may not choose our nation; we can only fulfil, or not fulfil, the obligations that come from being a member of our people’.
© Dr. Jan Stankievič ‘From the History of Belarus’

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2012 Oct 13 15:32
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RE: The Short Science Fiction Thread
Quote:You were on your way home when you died.

It was a car accident. Nothing particularly remarkable, but fatal nonetheless. You left behind a wife and two children. It was a painless death. The EMTs tried their best to save you, but to no avail. Your body was so utterly shattered you were better off, trust me.

And that’s when you met me.

“What… what happened?” You asked. “Where am I?”

“You died,” I said, matter-of-factly. No point in mincing words.

“There was a… a truck and it was skidding…”

“Yup,” I said.

“I… I died?”

“Yup. But don’t feel bad about it. Everyone dies,” I said.

You looked around. There was nothingness. Just you and me. “What is this place?” You asked. “Is this the afterlife?”

“More or less,” I said.

“Are you god?” You asked.

“Yup,” I replied. “I’m God.”

“My kids… my wife,” you said.

“What about them?”

“Will they be all right?”

“That’s what I like to see,” I said. “You just died and your main concern is for your family. That’s good stuff right there.”

You looked at me with fascination. To you, I didn’t look like God. I just looked like some man. Or possibly a woman. Some vague authority figure, maybe. More of a grammar school teacher than the almighty.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’ll be fine. Your kids will remember you as perfect in every way. They didn’t have time to grow contempt for you. Your wife will cry on the outside, but will be secretly relieved. To be fair, your marriage was falling apart. If it’s any consolation, she’ll feel very guilty for feeling relieved.”

“Oh,” you said. “So what happens now? Do I go to heaven or hell or something?”

“Neither,” I said. “You’ll be reincarnated.”

“Ah,” you said. “So the Hindus were right,”

“All religions are right in their own way,” I said. “Walk with me.”

You followed along as we strode through the void. “Where are we going?”

“Nowhere in particular,” I said. “It’s just nice to walk while we talk.”

“So what’s the point, then?” You asked. “When I get reborn, I’ll just be a blank slate, right? A baby. So all my experiences and everything I did in this life won’t matter.”

“Not so!” I said. “You have within you all the knowledge and experiences of all your past lives. You just don’t remember them right now.”

I stopped walking and took you by the shoulders. “Your soul is more magnificent, beautiful, and gigantic than you can possibly imagine. A human mind can only contain a tiny fraction of what you are. It’s like sticking your finger in a glass of water to see if it’s hot or cold. You put a tiny part of yourself into the vessel, and when you bring it back out, you’ve gained all the experiences it had.

“You’ve been in a human for the last 48 years, so you haven’t stretched out yet and felt the rest of your immense consciousness. If we hung out here for long enough, you’d start remembering everything. But there’s no point to doing that between each life.”

“How many times have I been reincarnated, then?”

“Oh lots. Lots and lots. An in to lots of different lives.” I said. “This time around, you’ll be a Chinese peasant girl in 540 AD.”

“Wait, what?” You stammered. “You’re sending me back in time?”

“Well, I guess technically. Time, as you know it, only exists in your universe. Things are different where I come from.”

“Where you come from?” You said.

“Oh sure,” I explained “I come from somewhere. Somewhere else. And there are others like me. I know you’ll want to know what it’s like there, but honestly you wouldn’t understand.”

“Oh,” you said, a little let down. “But wait. If I get reincarnated to other places in time, I could have interacted with myself at some point.”

“Sure. Happens all the time. And with both lives only aware of their own lifespan you don’t even know it’s happening.”

“So what’s the point of it all?”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Seriously? You’re asking me for the meaning of life? Isn’t that a little stereotypical?”

“Well it’s a reasonable question,” you persisted.

I looked you in the eye. “The meaning of life, the reason I made this whole universe, is for you to mature.”

“You mean mankind? You want us to mature?”

“No, just you. I made this whole universe for you. With each new life you grow and mature and become a larger and greater intellect.”

“Just me? What about everyone else?”

“There is no one else,” I said. “In this universe, there’s just you and me.”

You stared blankly at me. “But all the people on earth…”

“All you. Different incarnations of you.”

“Wait. I’m everyone!?”

“Now you’re getting it,” I said, with a congratulatory slap on the back.

“I’m every human being who ever lived?”

“Or who will ever live, yes.”

“I’m Abraham Lincoln?”

“And you’re John Wilkes Booth, too,” I added.

“I’m Hitler?” You said, appalled.

“And you’re the millions he killed.”

“I’m Jesus?”

“And you’re everyone who followed him.”

You fell silent.

“Every time you victimized someone,” I said, “you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you’ve done, you’ve done to yourself. Every happy and sad moment ever experienced by any human was, or will be, experienced by you.”

You thought for a long time.

“Why?” You asked me. “Why do all this?”

“Because someday, you will become like me. Because that’s what you are. You’re one of my kind. You’re my child.”

“Whoa,” you said, incredulous. “You mean I’m a god?”

“No. Not yet. You’re a fetus. You’re still growing. Once you’ve lived every human life throughout all time, you will have grown enough to be born.”

“So the whole universe,” you said, “it’s just…”

“An egg.” I answered. “Now it’s time for you to move on to your next life.”

And I sent you on your way.

source

We must dissent.

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2013 Jan 22 13:49
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RE: The Short Science Fiction Thread
Here's Eye or Argon by Jim Theis, considered by many as the worst sci-fi/fantasy story ever written.

Quote:Consciousness returned to Grignr in stygmatic pools as his mind gradually cleared of the cobwebs cluttering its inner recesses, yet the stygian cloud of charcoal ebony remained. An incompatible shield of blackness, enhanced by the bleak abscense of sound.

Quote:"Up to the altar and be done with it wench;" ordered a fidgeting shaman as he gave the female a grim stare accompanied by the wrinkling of his lips to a mirthful grin of delight.
The girl burst into a slow steady whimper, stooping shakily to her knees and cringing woefully from the priest with both arms wound snake-like around the bulging jade jade shin rising before her scantily attired figure. Her face was redly inflamed from the salty flow of tears spouting from her glassy dilated eyeballs.

Quote:The thing was gone forever. All that remained was a dark red blotch upon the face of the earth, blotching things up. Shaking his head, his shaggy mane to clear the jumbled fragments of his mind, Grignr tossed the limp female over his shoulder. Mounting one of the disgruntled mares, and leading the other; the weary, scarred barbarian trooted slowly off into the horizon to become a tiny pinpoint in a filtered filed of swirling blue mists, leaving the Nobles, soldiers and peasants to replace the missing monarch. Long leave the king!!!

By Jim Theis
winner of the Jay T. Rikosh award for excellence

I like to look at the human self-model as a neurocomputational weapon, a certain data structure that the brain can activate from time to time.

Thomas Metzinger
2013 Jan 24 14:35
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