Read Arthur C. Clarke’s Super Short, 31-Word Sci-Fi Story, “siseneG”

clarke 31 word story

As brevi­ty in fic­tion goes, who can top “For sale: baby shoes, nev­er worn”? That much-ref­er­enced six-word sto­ry, often attrib­uted to Ernest Hem­ing­way, cer­tain­ly packs an impres­sive amount of human dra­ma into its short length. But what about oth­er gen­res? What would a six-word sci­ence- fic­tion sto­ry look like? i09 crowd­sourced count­less such works in 2014: respons­es, which tend­ed toward the escha­to­log­i­cal, includ­ed “The Uni­verse died. He did not,” “New world. Cryo­genic fail­ure. Seeds dead,” and “Final­ly sen­tient, it switched itself off.”

Not bad, but what would we get if we went to the pro­fes­sion­als? Alas, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, pro­lif­ic author of such respect­ed sci-fi nov­els as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ren­dezvous with Rama, passed away just five years before i09 issued its chal­lenge. Still, we have an idea of the direc­tion his entry might have gone in from of “siseneG,” a sto­ry sto­ry — a very short sto­ry indeed — Clarke sent in to Ana­log mag­a­zine in 1984:

And God said: DELETE lines One to Aleph. LOAD. RUN.
And the Uni­verse ceased to exist.

Then he pon­dered for a few aeons, sighed, and added: ERASE.
It nev­er had exist­ed.

“This is the only short sto­ry I’ve writ­ten in ten years or so,” Clarke wrote in the accom­pa­ny­ing note. “I think you’ll agree that they don’t come much short­er.” We now know that they can come some­what short­er, at least 25 words short­er than “siseneG,” but sure­ly we can all agree that Clarke set a high stan­dard for sci­en­tif­ic (or per­haps tech­no­log­i­cal-exis­ten­tial) flash fic­tion decades before the coinage of the term. But then, we always knew the man had a knack for look­ing ahead.

via Let­ters of Note

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1964, Arthur C. Clarke Pre­dicts the Inter­net, 3D Print­ers and Trained Mon­key Ser­vants

Arthur C. Clarke Pre­dicts in 2001 What the World Will Look By Decem­ber 31, 2100

Arthur C. Clarke Nar­rates Film on Mandelbrot’s Frac­tals; David Gilmour Pro­vides the Sound­track

Free Sci­ence Fic­tion Clas­sics on the Web: Hux­ley, Orwell, Asi­mov, Gaiman & Beyond

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Doug Slavin says:

    Does­n’t every­one know this one? I thought it was famous as the short­est SF sto­ry ever writ­ten but I can’t recall who wrote it:

    “The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door”.

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