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Having seen the short animated film "The Last Job On Earth" reminded me that there was a short story with a similar idea. People live in a Utopia of ease and comfort, but they keep being coerced and/or tricked into performing odd little tasks, like moving an object or activating a switch, that seems meaningless and trivial. However, from the reader's perception, these tasks are vital as they allow the machines to keep running and to support the Utopian society, since they can't do repairs to themselves in case of developing a feedback loop. Anyone recall the author and the story please?

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"The Waker Dreams" by Richard Matheson, which you can read at the Internet Archive. Degenerate future humans are tricked into doing useful work while they think they are being entertained with virtual reality adventures:

They would go out to the hydroponics tanks and fight off an invasion of Energy Eaters. Bigger than the Rustons and made of pure force, they threatened to suck the sustenance from the plants in the growing trays, the living, formless meat swelling immortally in the nutrient solution. The Energy Eaters would be beaten off, of course. They always were.

Naturally. They were only dreams. Creatures of fantastic illusion, conjured in eager dreaming minds by chemical magic and dreary scientific incantation.

But what would all these Justin Rackleys say, these handsome and hopeless ruins of torpid flesh, if they found out how they were being fooled? Found out that the Rustons were only mental fictions for objectifying simple rust and wear and converting them into fanciful monster. Monsters which alone could feebly arouse the dim instinct for self-preservation which just barely existed in this lost race. Energy Eaters—beetles and spores and exhausted growth solutions. Mine Borers—vaporous beasties that had to be blasted out of the Lunar and Martian metal deposits. And others, still others, all of them threats to that which runs and feeds and renews a city.

And what would they say, these Justin Rackleys, upon the discovery that each of them, in their "dreams," had done genuine manual work? That their ray guns were spray guns or grease guns or air hammers, their death rays no more than streams of lubrication for rusting machines or insecticides or liquid fertilizer?

What would they say if they found out how they were tricked into breeding with aphrodisiacs in the guise of anti-poison shots? How they, with no healthy interest in procreation, were drugged into the furtherance of their spineless strain, a strain whose only function was to sustain the life-giving machines.

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  • Yes, that's it - I recall the Rustons now! Thank you for that and most especially the link :) Feb 21, 2016 at 6:40
  • @Covertwalrus You're welcome!
    – user14111
    Feb 21, 2016 at 7:50

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