Science fiction short story recommendations.

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August 18th, 2017 at 9:42:30 AM permalink
Nareed
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Science fiction tends to be quite good in short story form. It allows for shallow exploration of novel ideas, that is to say without all the complications inherent to it. Often, though, the purpose is to shock (which includes many of the "Surprise! It was Earth!" sub-genre).

On that vein, and given the prominence of politics lately, I recommend Isaac Asimov's short story "Franchise."

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: a man gets to vote.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: an average man finds out how average he is when he's chosen to be The Voter of the Year.

Shock factor: medium to high

My reaction: I felt really sorry for everyone involved, especially the protagonist at the end.

Plausibility: low-to-nil in today's culture.
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
August 21st, 2017 at 9:53:10 AM permalink
Nareed
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"The Jigsaw Man" by Larry Niven.

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: a man awaits trial and execution.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: you won't believe what crime he's charged with.

Shock factor: high

My reaction: Well, I already knew what was going on and what would happen...

Plausibility: it may already have happened. If it hasn't, then chances are low but I wouldn't rule it out.

I recommend this as the introductory story to Niven's early "Known Space" series. It gives you the background for all the Gil Hamilton stories, plus the plot for "A Gift From Earth." This in turn sets up the latter stories, such as the tales of Beowulf Shaeffer. I didn't start with that, so I already knew what was going on and what would happen...

NOTE: do not confuse this story with "Patchwork Girl." There are similarities, but they're completely different stories.
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
August 21st, 2017 at 10:02:55 AM permalink
Nareed
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"The Food of the Gods" by Arthur C. Clarke

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: Definitions matter.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: If you synthesize the molecules of the fragrance of a rose so they are identical to those produced by a natural rose, is the smell that of a rose?

Shock factor: it depends, but rather high.

My reaction: Yuck! And a very slight curiosity. Also: interesting claim, I wonder if it's true.

Plausibility: Very high. It's-bound-to-happen high. We-already-have-the-means-to-do-it high.
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
August 21st, 2017 at 1:02:42 PM permalink
Nareed
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Of course today I should have led with:

"Nightfall" by Isaac Asimov.

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: A total solar eclipse takes place.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: A total solar eclipse takes place, in a world withing a multiple star system where there is always at least one of six suns in the sky at all times.

Shock factor: Hard to say. It wasn't meant to shock, but to disprove a quotation (*)

My reaction: 1) why doesn't an advanced civilization have artificial light? (this was retroactively corrected in the novel written decades later, with just enough handwavium not to feel like a plot device). 2) To this day I get chills when I read the phrase "The long night had come again."

Plausibility: impossible to say.




(*) from wikipedia:
Quote:
According to Asimov's autobiography, Campbell asked Asimov to write the story after discussing with him a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

"If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God!"

Campbell's opinion was to the contrary: "I think men would go mad."






Spoiler comment:







proceed at your own risk





It was Asimov's breakthrough story in the pulp era, it's very well written, the novel is among my favorites, but I'm still uncomfortable that an eclipse is a real cause for disaster, given all the ignorant fear-mongering and superstitions that surround eclipses even now.
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
August 21st, 2017 at 5:00:11 PM permalink
Pacomartin
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
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Title: Nightfall
Author: Isaac Asimov
Original copyright year: 1941
Age: Asimove was age 21, and this was his 32nd story

If the stars should appear one night in
a thousand years, how would men believe
and adore, and preserve for many generations
the remembrance of the city of God?'
EMERSON


Aton 77, director of Saro University, thrust out a belligerent lower
lip and glared at the young newspaperman in a hot fury.
Theremon 762 took that fury in his stride. In his earlier days, when
his now widely syndicated column was only a mad idea in a cub reporter's
mind, he had specialized in 'impossible' interviews. It had cost him
bruises, black eyes, and broken bones; but it had given him an ample supply
of coolness and self-confidence. So he lowered the outthrust hand that had
been so pointedly ignored and calmly waited for the aged director to get
over the worst. Astronomers were queer ducks, anyway, and if Aton's actions
of the last two months meant anything; this same Aton was the queer-duckiest
of the lot.
Aton 77 found his voice, and though it trembled with restrained
emotion, the careful, somewhat pedantic phraseology, for which the famous
astronomer was noted, did not abandon him.
'Sir,' he said, 'you display an infernal gall in coming to me with that
impudent proposition of yours.' The husky telephotographer of the
Observatory, Beenay 25, thrust a tongue's tip across dry lips and interposed
nervously, 'Now, sir, after all -- '
The director turned to him and lifted a white eyebrow.
'Do not interfere, Beenay. I will credit you with good intentions in
bringing this man here; but I will tolerate no insubordination now.'
Theremon decided it was time to take a part. 'Director Aton, if you'll
let me finish what I started saying, I think -- '
'I don't believe, young man,' retorted Aton, 'that anything you could
say now would count much as compared with your daily columns of these last
two months. You have led a vast newspaper campaign against the efforts of
myself and my colleagues to organize the world against the menace which it
is now too late to avert. You have done your best with your highly personal
attacks to make the staff of this Observatory objects of ridicule.'
The director lifted a copy of the Saro City Chronicle from the table
and shook it at Theremon furiously. 'Even a person of your well-known
impudence should have hesitated before coming to me with a request that he
be allowed to cover today's events for his paper. Of all newsmen, you!'
Aton dashed the newspaper to the floor, strode to the window, and
clasped his arms behind his back.
'You may leave,' he snapped over his shoulder. He stared moodily out at
the skyline where Gamma, the brightest of the planet's six suns, was
setting. It had already faded and yellowed into the horizon mists, and Aton
knew he would never see it again as a sane man. He whirled. 'No, wait, come
here!' He gestured peremptorily. I'll give you your story.'
The newsman had made no motion to leave, and now he approached the old
man slowly. Aton gestured outward.
'Of the six suns, only Beta is left in the sky. Do you see it?'
The question was rather unnecessary. Beta was almost at zenith, its
ruddy light flooding the landscape to an unusual orange as the brilliant
rays of setting Gamma died. Beta was at aphelion. It was small; smaller than
Theremon had ever seen it before, and for the moment it was undisputed ruler
of Lagash's sky.
Lagash's own sun. Alpha, the one about which it revolved, was at the
antipodes, as were the two distant companion pairs. The red dwarf Beta --
Alpha's immediate companion -- was alone, grimly alone.
Aton's upturned face flushed redly in the sunlight. 'In just under four
hours,' he said, 'civilization, as we know it, comes to an end. It will do
so because, as you see. Beta is the only sun in the sky.' He smiled grimly.
'Print that! There'll be no one to read it.'
'But if it turns out that four hours pass -- and another four -- and
nothing happens?' asked Theremon softly.
'Don't let that worry you. Enough will happen.'
'Granted! And still -- it nothing happens?'
For a second time, Beenay 25 spoke. 'Sir, I think you ought to listen
to him.'
Theremon said, 'Put it to a vote, Director Aton.'
There was a stir among the remaining five members of the Observatory
staff, who till now had maintained an attitude of wary neutrality.
'That,' stated Aton flatly, 'is not necessary.' He drew out his pocket
watch. 'Since your good friend, Beenay, insists so urgently, I will give you
five minutes. Talk away.'
'Good! Now, just what difference would it make if you allowed me to
take down an eyewitness account of what's to come? If your prediction comes
true, my presence won't hurt; for in that case my column would never be
written. On the other hand, if nothing comes of it, you will just have to
expect ridicule or worse. It would be wise to leave that ridicule to
friendly hands.'
Aton snorted. 'Do you mean yours when you speak of friendly hands?'
'Certainly!' Theremon sat down and crossed his legs.
'My columns may have been a little rough, but I gave you people the
benefit of the doubt every time. After all. this is not the century to
preach "The end of the world is at hand" to Lagash. You have to understand
that people don't believe the Book of Revelations anymore, and it annoys
them to have scientists turn aboutface and tell us the Cultists are right
after all -- '
'No such thing, young man,' interrupted Aton. 'While a great deal of
our data has been supplied us by the Cult, our results contain none of the
Cult's mysticism. Facts are facts, and the Cult's so-called mythology has
certain facts behind it. We've exposed them and ripped away their mystery. I
assure you that the Cult hates us now worse than you do.'
'I don't hate you. I'm just trying to tell you that the public is in an
ugly humor. They're angry.'
Aton twisted his mouth in derision. 'Let them be angry.'
'Yes, but what about tomorrow?'
'There'll be no tomorrow!'
'But if there is. Say that there is -- just to see what happens. That
anger might take shape into something serious. After all, you know, business
has taken a nosedive these last two months. Investors don't really believe
the world is coming to an end, but just the same they're being cagy with
their money until it's all over. Johnny Public doesn't believe you, either,
but the new spring furniture might just as well wait a few months -- just to
make sure.
'You see the point. Just as soon as this is all over, the business
interests will be after your hide. They'll say that if crackpots -- begging
your pardon -- can upset the country's prosperity any time they want, simply
by making some cockeyed prediction -- it's up to the planet to prevent them.
The sparks will fly, sir.'
The director regarded the columnist sternly. 'And just what were you
proposing to do to help the situation?'
'Well' -- Theremon grinned -- 'I was proposing to take charge of the
publicity. I can handle things so that only the ridiculous side will show.
It would be hard to stand, I admit, because I'd have to make you all out to
be a bunch of gibbering idiots, but if I can get people laughing at you,
they might forget to be angry. In return for that, all my publisher asks is
an exclusive story.'
Beenay nodded and burst out, 'Sir, the rest of us think he's right.
These last two months we've considered everything but the million-to-one
chance that there is an error somewhere in our theory or in our
calculations. We ought to take care of that, too.'
There was a murmur of agreement from the men grouped about the table,
and Aton's expression became that of one who found his mouth full of
something bitter and couldn't get rid of it.
'You may stay if you wish, then. You will kindly refrain, however, from
hampering us in our duties in any way. You will also remember that I am in
charge of all activities here, and in spite of your opinions as expressed in
your columns, I will expect full cooperation and full respect -- '
His hands were behind his back, and his wrinkled face thrust forward
determinedly as he spoke. He might have continued indefinitely but for the
intrusion of a new voice.
'Hello, hello, hello!' It came in a high tenor, and the plump cheeks of
the newcomer expanded in a pleased smile. 'What's this morgue-like
atmosphere about here? No one's losing his nerve, I hope.'
Aton started in consternation and said peevishly, 'Now what the devil
are you doing here, Sheerin? I thought you were going to stay behind in the
Hideout.'
Sheerin laughed and dropped his stubby figure into a chair. 'Hideout be
blowed! The place bored me. I wanted to be here, where things are getting
hot. Don't you suppose I have my share of curiosity? I want to see these
Stars the Cultists are forever speaking about.' He rubbed his hands and
added in a soberer tone. 'It's freezing outside. The wind's enough to hang
icicles on your nose. Beta doesn't seem to give any heat at all, at the
distance it is.'
The white-haired director ground his teeth in sudden exasperation. 'Why
do you go out of your way to do crazy things, Sheerin? What kind of good are
you around here?'
'What kind of good am I around there?' Sheerin spread his palms in
comical resignation. 'A psychologist isn't worth his salt in the Hideout.
They need men of action and strong, healthy women that can breed children.
Me? I'm a hundred pounds too heavy for a man of action, and I wouldn't be a
success at breeding children. So why bother them with an extra mouth to
feed? I feel better over here.'
...

On the horizon outside the window, in the direction of Saro City, a
crimson glow began growing, strengthening in brightness, that was not the
glow of a sun.
The long night had come again.


In October 1938 at the age of 18, he sold the third story he finished, "Marooned Off Vesta", to Amazing Stories, then a monthly sci-fi magazine edited by Raymond A. Palmer, and it appeared in the March 1939 issue. Two more of his stories appeared that year, "The Weapon Too Dreadful to Use" in the May Amazing and "Trends" in the July Astounding.

For 1940, ISFDB catalogs seven stories in four different pulp magazines, including one in Astounding.

In September 1941, Astounding published the 32nd story Asimov wrote, "Nightfall", which has been described as one of "the most famous science-fiction stories of all time".

Questioning Asimov's claim that 3600 stars are visible to the naked eye on Earth , the Yale Bright Star Catalog tabulates every star visible from Earth to magnitude 6.5, the naked eye limit for most of humanity. The total comes to 9,096 stars visible across the entire sky. Both hemispheres. Since we can only see half the celestial sphere at any moment, we necessarily divide that number by two to arrive at 4,548 stars (give or take depending on the season). So 3600 is not a bad estimate.
August 22nd, 2017 at 7:05:23 AM permalink
Nareed
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
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Posts: 12474
Quote: Pacomartin
In September 1941, Astounding published the 32nd story Asimov wrote, "Nightfall", which has been described as one of "the most famous science-fiction stories of all time".


Actually the style is quite pulpish, and like all of Asimov's work, there's a lot of dialogue. But the pacing of the story works wonders. Many things happen on the path to totality, and they interrupt each other. It feels rather breathless as a result.


Quote:
Questioning Asimov's claim that 3600 stars are visible to the naked eye on Earth ,


That paragraph was added by John W. Campbell Jr., the magazine's editor. to that point, Asimov had very purposefully avoided mentioning Earth at all.

You'd think in the novel it would have been left out. actually it makes a reference to something hypothesized earlier in the novel by one of the astronomers, who thinks there may be a dozen stars in the universe ;)

The novel actually is really, really, really good. It was part of a three novel project, where Robert Silverberg novelized three classic Asimov stories (the other two are "The Bicentennial Man" and "The Ugly Little Boy.") The other two are ok, but add little to the stories. In Nightfall Silverberg adds a long prelude outlining the discoveries that let the astronomers figure out what's going on (more or less), and fleshes out the Cult as well. then you get the actual short story with few changes (surprisingly few), and then a look at the post-apocalyptic world the Eclipse hath wrought.

You know, ti would be great to make a movie out of it. except thus far any Asimov stories made into movies are train wrecks of major proportions. Besides, no one would bother to get a world with six suns right.
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
August 23rd, 2017 at 1:14:34 PM permalink
Nareed
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
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Posts: 12474
"The Omnilingual" by H. Beam Piper

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: Words matter.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: How do you decipher a dead written language from a dead civilization in another planet (Mars)?

Shock factor: None. It's not meant to shock at all.

My reaction: Wow!

Plausibility: Impossible to say. not in the setting Piper dreamt up (Mars), but it's been done on Earth and might very well be done elsewhere.


For all my reading of history, I couldn't tell you how any ancient language was deciphered, except for Ancient Egyptian. Some didn't require deciphering. Latin is still in use to this day (though minimally and much changed) as are Greek and Hebrew (again much changed). I'm less certain about Asian languages, but I think several are even older than Ancient Greek and remain in use to this day.

"The Omnilingual" is one of those stories written before people knew, understood, or accepted the nature of other planets in the Solar System, when we could dream of habitable, if not inhabited, worlds nearby where we might one day be able to travel to. Piper had a thing for Mars (though venus plays a small bit ins some of his stories), going so far as making it the planet where humanity really originated in his Paratime Police series.
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
August 25th, 2017 at 7:45:44 AM permalink
Nareed
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"All the Myriad Ways" by Larry Niven.

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: The ultimate parallel universes story to end all parallel universes stories.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: The ultimate parallel universes story to end all parallel universes stories.

Shock factor: Meh.

My reaction: Parallel universes are no fun if you take the idea to its ultimate logical conclusion.

Plausibility: Unknown.


To wash it off, you should try

"For a Foggy Night" by Larry Niven

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: Not the ultimate parallel universes story to end all parallel universes stories.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: You thought fog was merely water vapor?.

Shock factor: Quite good.

My reaction: Too bad fog is nothing but water vapor. also: great story, if you can suspend disbelief. after all, fog is only water vapor.

Plausibility: Zero.
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
August 29th, 2017 at 1:48:48 PM permalink
Nareed
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Posts: 12474
"Try, Try Again" by John Gregory Betancourt

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: Man tries to send thoughts to himself back in time and fails.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: Man tries to send thoughts to himself back in time and fails, and fails, and fails, and fails.

Shock factor: None. It has a surprise twist factor, but too early in the story to be effective.

My reaction: What a cute, little story!

Plausibility: Most likely as close to zero as makes no difference.

I do give it high marks for being a finite, logical progression, without ever turning into a morality tale.
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
September 4th, 2017 at 11:48:00 AM permalink
Nareed
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"Reunion" by Arthur C. Clarke

Non-spoiler ridiculously short synopsis: Aliens offer a cure for a widespread disease.

Non-spoiler slightly longer synopsis: Man, this is going to piss off the Trump fanboys! (even if it was written in 1971)

Shock factor: It depends on certain physical attributes, but high. See above.

My (revised) reaction: Man, this is going to piss off the Trump fanboys!

Plausibility: Zero

You can read it whole here: http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2014/06/arthur-c-clarke-1971-reunion.html
If Trump where half as smart as he thinks he is, he'd be twice as smart as he really is.
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