LESTER del REY, Editor – Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Second Annual Edition. E. P. Dutton, hardcover. 1973. Ace, paperback, December 1975.

   #9. VERNOR VINGE “Long Shot.” Short story. First appeared in Analog SF, August 1972. Collected in True Names … and Other Dangers (Baen, paperback, November 1987) and The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge (Tor, hardcover, November 2001). Reprinted several times, including Explorers: SF Adventures to Far Horizons, edited by Gardner Dozois (St. Martins, trade paperback, April 2000).

   Vernor Vinge not only writes the kind of SF I like to read, but he has won Hugos for three novels he’s written: A Fire Upon the Deep (1992), A Deepness in the Sky (1999), Rainbows End (2006), as well as two novellas: Fast Times at Fairmont High (2002), and The Cookie Monster (2004). “Long Shot” didn’t win any awards, nor was it even nominated, but it’s a good one.

   For lack of a better word on my part, I’m going to call Ilse an A.I., although that may not be entirely true. She is female, that much is certain, so even though her brain is made of iron and germanium, laced with arsenic, the name Ilse fits her just fine.

   She is also the longest lived of all of Earth’s creatures “and perhaps the last.” Boosted into space and making a loop around the sun to gain acceleration, the ship she controls head off on a voyage lasting one hundred centuries and four light years.

   For what purpose? Although Ilse retains enough of her memory to make the minute changes in course to reach, Centauran system, by the time she nears the end of her voyage, she has forgotten the purpose of her mission, which of course is the entire point of the story. Which also when revealed to the reader, that very same reader will say “of course.”

   The math and the physics are only the clincher. This story is a prime example of hard SF at its finest.


Previously from the del Rey anthology: DONALD NOAKES “The Long Silence.”