Name that Sci-Fi story
March 10, 2009 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Yet another "name that science fiction story" question: Short sci-fi story, probably read in a best-of-year, Hugo, or Nebula collection, possibly from the 80's.

In this story, the protagonist has an operation or procedure that allows him to experience/relive the creative process of a famous artist. Could have been Van Gough, but might just as easily have been some other European artist. As one would expect, the procedure ends up being a disappointment, as instead of experiencing creative epiphanies, the famous artist's great works, minor works, and test pieces just sort tumble out of the protagonist's arms and onto the canvas, almost like automatic writing, with no greater insight into the thought processes that produced them. IIRC, the protagonist's life is essentially ruined, and he goes mad or becomes an alcoholic.

I've been wanting to go back and re-read this story for some time, so hopefully someone will recognize it from the above description. Thanks!
posted by mosk to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There was a story like that which was about musical composition, where the artist recreated was Richard Strauss, which I think was written by James Blish. But there's no such tragedy for the host at the end, so it probably isn't the story you're thinking of.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:29 PM on March 10, 2009

I can think of a great story along a similar theme where the protagonists job is to go back in time and encourage famous artists, musicians and so on with a visit from a greatful future. It ends with a meh not a bang and the protagonist kinda finds himself thinking he's wasting a lot of time and effort.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:48 PM on March 10, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks. These both sound like good stories, but unfortunately neither is the one I'm looking for.
posted by mosk at 3:59 PM on March 10, 2009

The answer also isn't "Doing Lennon" by Gregory Benford, but if you like the story you're asking about, you might like it as well. (Clicking here might take you to the Google Books version of the story. It works for me, anyway.)
posted by Ian A.T. at 5:37 PM on March 10, 2009

"Nanotech" is an anthology which includes a story set in Amsterdam, more specifically in the Van Gogh museum. The protagonist experiments with proscribed nanotech and has hallucinatory art-oriented experiences. It does not end well.

My copy is boxed up at the moment, else I'd try to get an author and title for you. Contributors include: Greg Bear, Nancy Kress, Greg Egan, Michael F. Flynn, Ian McDonald, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Stephen Baxter, Paul Di Filippo, David Marusek, Geoffrey A. Landis.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:13 PM on March 10, 2009

The story I have in mind is "Sunflowers," by Kathleen Ann Goonan.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:16 PM on March 10, 2009

I'll put in my standard two cents here about rec.arts.sf.written having a very high success rates on story IDs.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:53 PM on March 10, 2009

For the record, the James Blish story mentioned above is "A Work of Art". That would have been my guess, too.
posted by teraflop at 7:04 PM on March 10, 2009

This doesn't quite sound like what you describe, but the basic idea is close enough that you should look at Joe Haldeman's story "Feedback."

"Feedback" offers an intriguing metaphor for artistic collaboration. A gifted artist melds his mind and consciousness with his clients, allowing his technical skills to guide their hands so that they can achieve their own visions on canvas: "All an art facilitator does is loan his or her mechanical skills and esthetic sensibilities to the customer. If the customer is a nutcase, the collaboration may be truly disturbing -- and perhaps revealing."

It's in the collection titled None So Blind.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:14 PM on March 10, 2009

Response by poster: MonkeyToes, thanks. I looked at the Goonan story, and while it isn't the one I was looking for, it does look quite good. I'll be reading it soon.

The James Blish story is another good one, but sadly not the story I'm looking for. Thanks, Chocolate Pickle and teraflop.

Pater Aletheias, thanks for suggesting the Haldeman story, which is also now on my list. I haven't read any of his stuff in years :-)

Finally, thank you Chrysostom for suggesting I ask on rec.arts.sf.written. That's an excellent suggestion, and something I wouldn't have thought of. I think that's a pretty good next step.

I'm not going to mark a favorite yet, as I still hope someone might come up with the story I'm looking for. In the meantime, if I find the answer elsewhere, I'll post it to this thread.
posted by mosk at 4:15 AM on March 11, 2009

Could it be a Stephen Baxter short story? I've read a couple of short stories by him that feature a "Sentience Cop" called Philmus, and in both of them she's investigating a simulation of a person that has been allowed to become self aware.

In particular, I remember one of them being a simulation of a poet as he was writing his greatest work. But because there wasn't enough computing power available, he was vague and frustrated in his attempts at writing.

Sorry I can't find a link to a better description of the stories, but the fact that they seem to have a similar theme, and he's written more than one with the same central character make me wonder if the story you're looking for is another one by him that I just haven't seen.

They both described the simulation as more like a very advanced virtual reality in which the characters could meet the simulated person, rather than being able to become the person in question.
posted by lucidium at 7:57 AM on March 12, 2009

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