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I recently reminded myself about a book (a story, not sure) I've read way back about hypothetical future of Earth.

I don't remember a lot from it, but the general idea was that the civilization has reached such levels of abundancy that they could produce things at arbitrary rate without human work. In order to keep the economy going, the things, immediately after production, were treated with a special chemical compound designed to desintegrate the things applied to.

That meant that e.g. a car would vanish (turn into dust) precisely after it's usefulness period has concluded, a newspaper would be gone the next day etc. etc.

I vaguely remember the main character driving in his car when such a process started, essentially leaving him (almost) naked without any of the possessions he had. I also remember a scene where an artist violently argues with another person about the timespan his work of art should receive (he claimed it's gonna be valuable for decades, while the other person chose a time, in his opinion, way too short - after that, of course, the piece would be lost forever).

I am not sure if it was a book or just a short story, but I think it developed for quite some time, with the ultimate end of breaking the thing-deprecation system, which was discovered to be extra-terrestrial.

I should also probably mention that I read it in Polish. I can't remember whether it was a Polish translation or an original Polish work, but the mere fact that this language version exists should be helpful.

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    Could you narrow down "way back"? Was it before or after 1970? – user14111 Sep 23 '16 at 12:17
  • @user14111 I certainly read it after 1970, but I have very little idea as to when it was written – Bartek Banachewicz Sep 23 '16 at 12:25
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    I remember reading the story. Although I cannot give a specific name I can provide a few more details: 1. It was (almost definitely) a short story. 2. I believe that there was an explosion of a factory or warehouse that had the powder to reduce things to dust. 3. On the end the aliens came to visit Earth and were perplexed to find that there was no civilisation and when they landed they were also influenced by this powder. – Michal Kurek Jan 3 '17 at 21:21
  • @MichalKurek All of those 3 were spot-on :) – Bartek Banachewicz Apr 9 '18 at 8:58
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Took me 1.5 years, but I found it! :)

This was a short story by one of my favorite sci-fi authors, Janusz Zajdel, and it was called "...et in pulverem reverteris" 1 . I stumbled upon it in the story collection called Relacja z Pierwszej Ręki 2.

1 'And to dust you shall return', from Genesis 3:19

2 ISBN: 978-83-7578-024-6

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  • That sounds interesting, shame it does not look like there is an English translation. – Jeremy French Apr 9 '18 at 9:33
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+50

I actually somewhat doubt that this is the correct answer due to a number of details not matching up, but J.G. Ballard's "The Subliminal Man" involves the protagonist realizing that the world around him is engineered to constant consumption with, e.g., the cars built to be fragile and the roads designed to be particularly rough so that cars will shake themselves apart within a period of months. However, the reviews I have found of it seem to indicate that it's a hidden conspiracy, not an open thing.

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  • Thanks, but I'm pretty sure this wasn't that; the things in the story I remember didn't break in a natural way. IOW, it was more than just deliberate building them to break. – Bartek Banachewicz Sep 23 '16 at 12:27
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    :) Eyeh, but I always like to share the misses because there's always a chance someone will be looking for the other story and they'll run into this question. – FuzzyBoots Sep 23 '16 at 12:34
  • @FuzzyBoots Doesn't that dilute the useful stuff a bit? When I am reminded about a story but I don't believe it's it, I post no more than a comment to the question. – Mr Lister Sep 23 '16 at 17:58
  • shrug That's possible too. But I don't think comments show up under the search function. Plus, until he disaffirmed it, there was a chance that it was right. :) – FuzzyBoots Sep 23 '16 at 18:00

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