A forgotten SF story about forgetting
September 8, 2011 12:25 PM   Subscribe

SF plot filter. Looking for story (maybe from Larry Niven) about a mysterious machine people keep on bumping into and immediately forgetting.

Turns out the machine is used to make people forget about a huge disaster about what used to be Chicago and is now a huge swamp. Any ideas? I'd say at least 30-40 years old.
posted by Eltulipan to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Is it related to Douglas Adam's SEP Field?
posted by garlic at 12:47 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:59 PM on September 8, 2011

Best answer: In the classic science fiction story "What's the Name of That Town?" by R. A. Lafferty, Chicago has been destroyed in an unspecified catastrophe. The event was so traumatic that the very existence of the city has been wiped from historical records and everyone's memory. A sentient computer figures out the truth from a collection of disconnected clues, but the moment it has finished telling the real story to its human companions, the facts instantly once again disappear from everybody's mind and the computer's database.

--TV tropes
posted by agentofselection at 7:18 PM on September 8, 2011

Agent ... has it, but the "mysterious machine" isn't the sentient computer that TVTropes mentions: the mysterious machine is the device used to cause the loss of memory, which is still around and still working. "You keep bumping into it every day and you call it 'that damnable pile of junk' " (said by the computer, whose name I wish I could remember, to the machine's creator, whose name I can't remember either).

The story is in Lafferty's collection Nine Hundred Grandmothers, which is out of print but seems to be selling for ridiculous prices on Amazon and ABEBooks. If you aren't already familiar with these mostly hilarious but occasionally disturbing stories and have access to a copy you owe it to yourself to read them. My copy is 3000 miles away at the moment and is definitely not for sale.
posted by Logophiliac at 11:32 PM on September 8, 2011

Gregory Smirnov! The machine was called Epiktistes. (An hour's Googling.)
posted by Logophiliac at 12:30 AM on September 9, 2011

I meant the computer was called Epiktistes. Although Epiktistes (both he and Smirnov appear in a good few of Lafferty's stories) is really another character.
posted by Logophiliac at 12:33 AM on September 9, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, RA Lafferty! I loved the way he wrote, there is something uniquely idiosynchratic about his style. I'll start looking, this belongs in my collection together with Jack Vance, Niven, Heinlein, Silberberg and all the other classics.
posted by Eltulipan at 12:57 AM on September 9, 2011

google books has all but two (middle) pages of the story available here.
posted by contrarian at 5:52 AM on September 9, 2011

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