Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #25

Alien Contact is now available for preorder from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and hopefully other booksellers as well, and will be published in November by Night Shade Books. If you are new to these "Story" postings, you may want to begin here. This is story #25 (of 26):

"MAXO Signals:
A New and Unfortunate Solution to the Fermi Paradox"
by Charles Stross

This "story" was originally published in the August 25, 2005, issue of Nature magazine, and is a short-short of approximately 800 words.

In fact, due to this story's short length -- and the style in which it was written -- I won't be quoting any of its actual content in this blog post. Regarding the story's style and content, Charles Stross had this to say:

I got an invite to write a short-short for Nature, one of the most prestigious real science journals there is! Which was great. However, there's a fly in the ointment: Nature's SF stories run on the back page. Not back pages, page singular.

It's kind of hard to write a one-page short story: you have to throw out a whole bunch of stuff you'd normally need in an SF story. Characterization, plot, theme, ideas -- pick any two and trash 'em ruthlessly and you'll still have to cut, and cut, and cut.

In the end, I decided to go tech: write a pastiche in the general style of a Letter to Nature -- not a peer-reviewed paper but a communiqué from a research group. What could they be researching? How about extra-terrestrial intelligence?

Let's take SETI seriously. We're listening for messages that Someone Out There feels strongly enough about to broadcast to the stars for decades or centuries on end. What on earth (or off it) could possibly repay the investment implicit in running an interstellar transmitter (a fearsomely high-powered device) for such a length of time? Well, there might be two-way communication: "I'll tell you how I build fusion reactors if you tell me how you build..." -- sort of a very slow-motion Galactic internet. But that's pretty unlikely. Because once you build an email system that anyone can broadcast on or listen into, sooner or later you'll get MAXO Signals...

I don't want to give too much away, but let me say that anyone who has received a solicitation email from Nigeria -- and that's pretty much everyone who has an email account -- will appreciate this short story. If you would rather not wait for the publication of Alien Contact, you can read an actual scan of the story from Nature via this PDF link.

[Continue to Story #26]

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