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I think I read this c. 1987. It would've been in a paperback SF short fiction anthology, likely with other stories by more famous authors (Heinlein, Asimov, the usual suspects). As I recall, the name of this story's author was not familiar to my young self at the time. The anthology was probably not a best-of for a particular year; I believe it was more of a thematic all-time deal.

The story's very simple. (Spoiler alert; it's hard to summarize this one without spoilers.) It narrates the perceptions and experiences of the probe as it ventures farther from its point of origin (Earth, I assume). Nothing really happens; planets and galaxies and their ilk drift by. As the endless journey unfolds, other probes from other civilized planets end up in the same trajectory as our hero. One by one, they accumulate; the story ends with a convoy of them probing onward into an unknowable (but achingly lonely, to my young reading self) future...

My Google skills have not been adequate to this. I did read "Interstellar Probes in Science Fiction" on the Icarus Interstellar site, to no avail; the story I'm looking for is not Van Vogt's "Far Centaurus."

My reason for wanting to know is admittedly personal and maybe not of universal interest: the story blew me away and devastated me as a young SF reader. (Yet somehow I forgot title and author!) Judging by other things I loved at the time, it'd probably underwhelm me today, but I'd love to unearth it and give it a fighting chance.

This is my first time on this awesome site (I explored a bit before posting). Apologies if my question's askew or ignorant or somehow violates protocol. Thanks for taking a look!

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1 Answer 1

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"Night Watch" by James Inglis. [After the story was identified, the asker found this online text.]

I think I read this c. 1987. It would've been in a paperback SF short fiction anthology, likely with other stories by more famous authors (Heinlein, Asimov, the usual suspects).

Assuming it was an American paperback, the most likely suspect is the 1978 Berkley Books edition of Space Odysseys, edited by Brian Aldiss; no Heinlein in it, but Asimov, Clarke, and Dick are represented.

As I recall, the name of this story's author was not familiar to my young self at the time.

The ISFDB lists only five published stories by James Inglis, none of them anthologized except "Night Watch".

main character is Voyager-style space probe

Asov. Automatic stellar observation vehicle.

It narrates the perceptions and experiences of the probe as it ventures farther from its point of origin (Earth, I assume).

As the old star slowly receded, he completed the program of his first mission. The data which loaded his brain cells was collated, coded, and dispatched in a tight beam of radio waves, directed towards a tiny area of the firmament where lay the remote star Sol and the planet Earth. The planet which he had never known, but out of which he had come.

As the endless journey unfolds, other probes from other civilized planets end up in the same trajectory as our hero.

Asov learned that the mysterious object was in reality something very familiar and at the same time totally alien. It was an interstellar probe, almost a mirror image of himself though its origins were half a galaxy away from his.

One by one, they accumulate;

Proof that the encounter was not a rare quirk of chance was soon forthcoming. More meetings took place, at first widely separated in time and space, later on an increasingly more frequent basis. Each encounter occurred amidst a steadily shrinking nucleus of stars.

the story ends with a convoy of them probing onward into an unknowable (but achingly lonely, to my young reading self) future...

The great probe fleet, keepers and guardians of cosmic history, sailed out to the starless gulfs in search of galaxies to call their own.

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Geez, that was fast. Thanks! –  Pete Aug 20 at 2:08
    
Glad I could help, and welcome to the site! Hoever, my answer isn't finished yet. I'm glad you recognized the title & author, but I'm adding more details so that other users will be able to tell that it's the correct answer to your question. –  user14111 Aug 20 at 2:22
    
Brilliant; thanks again. Thanks to that ID, I found an online edition of the story (albeit with some coding glitches, and from a different anthology) here: ftp.seti.org/phillips/scifi/… –  Pete Aug 20 at 3:14
    
Thanks, I added your link to my answer. –  user14111 Aug 20 at 4:09

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