Bring Back Short Stories

There was a time, before the screens took over, when people read these things called “books”. Remarkably efficient things. Always-on display. Could survive dropping from a great height. Somewhat fragile but who cares when you could mass produce thousands of the things for hundreds of dollars.

Sometimes the books contained one long story. Sometimes they stapled together many smaller stories and called it a book. I was raised on anthologies like these:

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In these books the science fiction authors of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s sent time capsules to the rest of us living in a century they would never see. At the time I never realized how brave that must be, how unknown it must feel to write down wild speculations where undoubtedly some of them would become true - and not know which they would be.

A couple stories really stuck out. I must have picked up that anthology in 1996-1998 or so, 25 years after the original publication. And probably got rid of it in a big house move/donation to a library in the 2000s.

I still think about that story every now and then, and but lacking the name for it I had no chance of finding it, particularly because it wasn’t a famous story. When ChatGPT first came out in Nov 2022, I immediately plugged in what details I could and came up with nothing. It STILL comes up with nothing in 2024.

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Today I found the perfect opportunity to plug it on a Hacker News thread with enough visibility that someone with my same sensibilities might see it:

i have been searching for a science fiction short story i read ~25 years ago - it was in a short story anthology book, probably not very famous because i’ve tried to plug it in and got nothing.


synopsis (since its a beautiful story and i may as well share it in case someone else here has read it and/or can prompt engineer chatgpt better than me):

  • Humanity reached abundance but also got overpopulated - so the solution was to shard humanity by days. 1/7 of Humanity wakes and works on one day of the week, sleeps in cryopod the other 6 days.

  • Main character is happily at work on a Monday tightening the screws on the planetary solar panels, when he notices a sleeping woman in another pod (another day, say Saturday idk) and falls in love on sight (i’m not 100% sure if it was physical-only, he may have read more about her or exchanged letters or something but cant fathom in-world reason how that would work)

  • After a lot of personal cost and effort, he manages to get a once-in-a-lifetime exemption from the government to switch days, and wakes up on Saturday for the first time in his life.

  • Goes over to see the woman… only to find she’s asleep, because she just transferred to Monday because she also fell in love with him. He’s barred from switching back because it was a onetime deal.

  • Goes back to work to his new Saturday job… loosening screws on the planetary solar panels.


(above MAY be a hallucination of two stories, its been so long that i’m not sure anymore)

It worked!

This story was ”The Sliced-Crosswise Only-On-Tuesday World” by American writer Philip José Farmer, first published in 1971 in New Dimensions 1: Fourteen Original Science Fiction Stories.

A full copy is here but if it disappears you can find the pdf in the source of this post. SlicedCrosswise.pdf

Reflections

I don’t know why this one stuck so much. It’s not a happy story (the ending is kind of a womp), or even relatable (physical obsession at first sight?), or even internally all that consistent (why shard humanity by 7 days? not 8? not 800? what happens if you stay past midnight?). But it’s romantic, and it’s tragic. And that kind of appeals to me.

It’s also interesting how I conflated this story with another about the screwing and loosening (which I now also cannot find, it doesn’t seem to even be in the same anthology as far as I can tell) to make it more ironic and more tragic.

With the success of the Lord of The Rings and then Game of Thrones and the Wheel of Time, the trend of fiction has been toward ever longer, interminably naval-gazey worldbuilding that most people will never have time to get into. But then TikTok and YouTube Shorts show the success of the short-form format.

I think the short story should come back as an art form. The Placeholder Girlfriend, Every Bay Area House Party, The Egg, The Last Question, MMAcevedo, Forward Pass, and more. One idea, wrapped up in compelling characters, put in ridiculous situations, built up and brought to a swift satisfying conclusion.

Please, if you have more, share them.

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