THEODORE STURGEON. “Agnes, Accent and Access.” Short story. First published in Galaxy SF, October 1973. Reprinted in The Best from Galaxy, Volume II, edited anonymously by Ejler Jakobsson. Collected in Case and the Dreamer, Volume XIII: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon (North Atlantic Books, 2010).

   This is the second of three short stories in this issue of Galaxy that I’ve been reading, ignoring the two long serial installments by James White and Arthur C. Clarke that take up a full two-thirds of the magazine. As far as ISFDb knows, the story has appeared in only two other places, which seems strange to me, as it’s a good one.

   When a company who stock in trade is the information retrieval business, it seems strange that they have to hire an outside consultant when problems arrive internally: requests from departments of the firm are being replied to with very incorrect responses. His way of investigating: to sit outside the president’s office ostensibly waiting for an appointment but in reality watching the very efficient secretary, named Agnes, working at her desk throughout the day.

   This story was written in 1973, long before Siri and Alexa came along, but if science fiction could ever have been said to predict the future, and the describe the problems that come along with it, this is a story that fits the bill to perfection. Adding even more to the enjoyment of the tale is the fact that Theodore Sturgeon was a flows along.

   Examples. This one line sentence, a mere throwaway in fact, sums up a fact that you might not of thought of yourself, but once read, you say, “Of course.”

   If the eardrum ever becomes taboo, high fashion will find a way to give you a glimpse of it.

   Or how about this longer passage, describing only the office itself where the consultant is waiting and observing:

   Suave was the word; the room was suave. The lighting was gentle and varied, tasteful and flattering. Sound went where one desired it to go and was swallowed up everywhere, else. There was a sense of pleasant disorientation, for the walls and to a very subtle degree the floor were not perfectly flat and there was no special place or line where wall became ceiling. In a strange way one seemed not to be indoors at all as much as in another country. Most of the light in the room changed color, but only slightly and with the wonderful gradualness of an aurora, for one does not see the change; one must look away and look back again to be able to know it at all. Yet the light was steady and clear where it should be so – around the wide soft benches and their displays of literature (current magazines, “coffeetable” art books and, nowhere in sight but by no means out of reach, discreetly startling M&H promotions), and equally steady and warm near the two mirrors. Clever touch, that, thought Merrihew.