Looking for the title of a story

  • astronomers on Earth think something is up with the universe as a radio or light signal takes less time to get from Jupiter than it should

  • this makes them realise the universe is shrinking (something like "...but that would put it [Jupiter] in our backyard!")

  • they realise there is a super- or external-universe, I think they call it mu, which is impinging on ours and causing it to shrink

  • this means that the universe will get so small light won't be able to travel (but everybody and the world retains their relative proportions, never been able to figure that bit out). Think the story ends with a gathering of people in a theatre or similar, and as the light ends, I think someone recites "The Lord is my shepherd..."

You'd think with that amount of detail google would help me find it but no joy!

I seem to remember reading the above in a collection of short stories when I was a kid - this may be a mis-memory but I think it was in a collection with a story that I now know (after some digging) "The Nine Billion Names of" God by Arthur C Clarke - I think it was also in a collection with "The Quest for St Aquin" by Anthony Boucher - both of these were collected in "The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One, 1929–1964" but looking at the other storiesv (link below) none of them seem to match the shrinking universe story


I think there was another story in there about a society where to make everyone equal all intelligent people have dampeners fitted in their brains and one guy rebels? Might be a red herring though.

Any help greatly appreciated!


1 Answer 1


Looks like this is "The Xi Effect" by Robert S. Richardson. It is collected with "The Nine Billion Names of God", "The Quest for St. Aquin" and "Harrison Bergeron" (the third story) in "The Golden Age of Science Fiction" published in 1981.

From the description on Wikipedia:

Two astrophysicists, Stoddard and Arnold, are having trouble with solar infra-red observations; they find that some wavelengths have simply disappeared. Many radio transmissions have also vanished from the airwaves.

After listening to a talk by a brilliant but eccentric cosmologist, Dr Karl Gustav Friedmann, they realise that his theory about the so-called Xi Effect may explain their observations. The Effect postulates a vastly higher order of space-time called Xi-space, which has altered, causing slowly increasing effects on the local universe. These effects will cause galaxies to collapse and shrink rather than recede as they normally do.

Eventually, the theory is proven as it becomes fact, and the shrinkage become measurable. Electromagnetic radiation is progressively eliminated and even colours begin to disappear. Darkness falls upon the Earth and there is total panic.

The ending also seems to contain the prayer you mentioned:

It was at that instant a new voice was heard in the darkness ; a voice calm and powerful, yet withal tender and reassuring.

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”

In the dim light men and women looked at each other fearful and be- wildered, as if a miracle were about to happen.

Again the voice came crying in the darkness. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures ; He leadeth me beside the still waters.”

(The story goes on a few more paragraphs, but that should be sufficient evidence that this is the story you're looking for.)

  • 2
    Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!!!!!!! I've been trying to remember this story for about 20 years, if not more (& obviously mis-remembered Xi as Mu) - can't tell you how much I appreciate it, and the pointer about the anthology, which was also spot on :)
    – Paul
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 22:12
  • 2
    @Paul Glad I could help! It was really recognizing Harrison Bergeron that did it, once I did that I just searched for collections that contained both it and NBNoG and checking out the table of contents of the first one I found. Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 22:15
  • cheers again - just seen the collection front cover on Amazon, brought back a load of memories :) I read sci-fi sporadically when I was younger, always been into it in film, tv & especially comics, been reading some sci-fi masterworks more the last few years, & reading anthologies like Dangerous Visions & Mirrorshades - now realise I read more well-known authors than I thought I did: can't believe read a Vonnegut story before I ever knew who "Vonnegut" was, & in a collection edited by Kingsley Amis before I knew who he was :) thanks again buddy, have a great rest of your day :)
    – Paul
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 22:27
  • 6
    In case anyone else wants to read it, it's also in a few other anthologies and online at archive.org.
    – user14111
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 22:33
  • 1
    Love this story! I read it in a MacDonald compilation.
    – Rob Grant
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 13:25

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