What is the name or author of this SciFi short story?
February 23, 2008 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Help me be awesome and find this sci fi short story for my room mate. I have only my account of his account of the plot to go by.

Plot summary: there is this man, who I think is a scientist, experimenting with cognitive function. He does something to himself (what, I do not know), and becomes super-intelligent.

He continues to grow more and more intelligent as the story goes on, so that eventually he has trouble relating to the world at all. Then he starts seeing these signs everywhere- someone communicating to him, someone else just as intelligent. He sees it in Stock Market patterns, in newspaper articles, etc.

The two meet up, as per the request of this mysterious stranger with the signs. However, this stranger has ulterior motives- he wants to destroy his intellectual equal. And so he does, simply by uttering some sort of phrase.

The signs he had planted has carried with them a slowly evolving, malicious code of sorts, and when he uttered this phrase this first man's entire consciousness just collapsed.

Hope any of that helps- this is a third-hand account of the story, but it seems really interesting and I'd like to get my hands on a copy.
posted by pedmands to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Sounds a lot like Understand, by Ted Chiang.
posted by Memo at 10:10 AM on February 23, 2008 [5 favorites]

It is definitely Understand, except that the person is just an experimental subject, not a scientist.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:39 AM on February 23, 2008

Oh, and if you want to pick up a copy, it's in his Stories Of Your Life And Others, which is uniformly excellent.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:44 AM on February 23, 2008

I just lurked on in to read the thread, and now I'm going to buy that book! Thanks for the tip!
posted by newfers at 11:21 AM on February 23, 2008

Yes, it's the Ted Chiang. Enjoy the one collection 'cause my understanding is that he's such a joy to work with that we're unlikely to see another.
posted by Justinian at 11:36 AM on February 23, 2008

That is absolutely the best collection of stories I've ever read. In fact, our sci fi book club has been meeting for five or six years and I think those of us who read it consider the best book we've read in group, with nothing else even coming close. The title story haunts me to this day.
posted by purenitrous at 12:05 PM on February 23, 2008

It is indeed a superb collection. (Justinian, what's the story with the "joy to work with"? MeMail me if you don't want to say in public.)
posted by languagehat at 12:36 PM on February 23, 2008

Best answer: Second time this story has been asked for on the green too. And I absolutely agree - it's easily my favorite short story collection in my library.

His The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate is on the Nebula ballot this year also
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 12:46 PM on February 23, 2008

Here's The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate online for free
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 12:52 PM on February 23, 2008

Hey I'm not an insider I just read between the lines.

Chiang reportedly caused all sorts of hassle for the publishers over the cover for the hardcover edition of "Stories of Your Life and others" over relatively trivial details. Nothing they did reportedly made him happy, to the point that he actually asked to remove his editor's name from the acknowledgements page. So when it came time to print the paperback edition they got rid of cover art altogether and went with just text, with full knowledge that doing so would doom Chiang to sales oblivion.

Lesson: Don't piss off your piblisher over trivial bullshit.

Here is Chiang's account: Adventures in Publishing

Here is the hardcover edition cover: Hardcover

Here is the all text paperback cover: Paperback
posted by Justinian at 2:14 PM on February 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

(Note that Chiang was lucky he got any input *at all* on his original cover. Unless you're Stephen King you don't have anything to do with your cover and probably not even then.
posted by Justinian at 2:15 PM on February 23, 2008

Wow, the story of the cover art is fascinating! I remember picking up the paperback (after reading so many good things about the collection) and standing in the store thinking the artwork was ugly to the point of gross incompetence. Thanks for adding that to the discussion, Justinian.
posted by bcwinters at 2:25 PM on February 23, 2008

Sorry about only providing Chiang's account.

I know I read an account at the time by someone "in the know" on the publisher's side with Chiang's name removed to protect the guilty but for the life of me I don't recall who wrote it. Given the hardcover was a Tor book it may have been Patrick or Teresa Nielsen Hayden over at "Making Light" but I don't see it on a cursory search, nor do I see it on rec.arts.sf.written. Think about how Chiang comes across in his version and then realize that he is likely portraying the situation in the best possible light...
posted by Justinian at 2:37 PM on February 23, 2008

Excellent story, cheers for mentioning it!
posted by BishopsLoveScifi at 2:41 PM on February 23, 2008

Response by poster: Gotta love the green, thanks!!
posted by pedmands at 3:21 PM on February 23, 2008

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