Sci fi short about alien philosophers riding giant snails?
February 21, 2021 7:14 PM   Subscribe

A few years ago I read a sci fi short story on a planet with two intelligent species. They’d spend their lives slowly traveling along an endless wall on which centuries of philosophy was carved, and maybe if they were good enough they’d reach the end of the carvings and add their own writings to the wall. One kind of creature would ride on the other kind, which I imagined as snail-like. What the heck was this story?

I might have read it in a back issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, but it could just as well have been in Strange Horizons or another online zine. And there was a subplot in which the supporting snail sacrificed for its rider by crawling out in the desert sand, which would shorten its life. This story was weird and creepy enough that I’d love to find it again.
posted by moonmilk to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have definitely listened to this story in podcast form but can't find it now for the life of me. The sci fi short story podcasts I listen to are probably too many to be useful but just in case: Escape pod, Clarkesworld, Beneath ceaseless skies, Drabblecast, Strange Horizons and Starship sofa.

Here's some more details:

He was not a snail himself, but later befriended one. It was set in a desert environment, and his species' lifespan was limited by how they would be literally abraded away by the dust/sand. The protagonist was a sort of holy man who had dedicated their life to reading the wall. Near the start he's heckled by a group of youths who had decided to literally live fast and die young. He disdains them and later in the story muses on how they will have already worn themselves away and died.

He was very confident, because his killer technique was to stand far back from the wall so he could read as much of it as possible moving only his eyes. By the midpoint he was getting very irritated with the unnecessarily self-important and waffly nonsense that a lot of the previous "wise men" had written there and (shock horror) even skipped some bits.

The key dramatic event was him wading into a sand vortex/trap of some sort to rescue snail-friend, but "wastes" his legs in the process. The snail reciprocates by carrying him to the end of the wall where he writes of the lesson he's learned.

I'm sorry I couldn't find the story for you and hope those extra details help.
posted by Lorc at 12:42 AM on February 22 [4 favorites]

Sounds like Friction by Will McIntosh. First appeared in Albedo One #30, but also appears on Escape Pod #144.
posted by mcbaya at 5:24 AM on February 22 [2 favorites]

That's it, thank you!
posted by moonmilk at 7:01 AM on February 22

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