I think I read this one in a hardback anthology that I checked out from a public library sometime in the 1990s. Definitely an English-language collection, with stories by various authors, although I don't recall any of their names. Here's what little I do remember about the plot of one story which seemed to be set some centuries in the future.

  1. The main viewpoint character is a man who, in his future society, has become quite popular for his skills in doing what we, today, might call a type of theatrical monologuing. The general idea is that he stands up in front of a live crowd, possibly with TV cameras rolling so millions of others may watch and listen, and recites from memory a sizeable chunk of prose. He does this at regular intervals -- his own ongoing show, you might say. I have a vague impression that his typical performance was probably over an hour in length; possibly two hours or more. (I don't recall if he did this weekly, or several times a week, or what, but it was on some sort of regular schedule so that his fans could plan ahead for it.)

  2. The tradition, in this future culture, is that the prose being recited on such occasions is always taken from some preexisting work of literature by someone else. For instance, the performer might be swiping from a novel written a few centuries earlier, which almost no other living person has ever so much as glanced at. Apparently it is commonplace for most members of the audience to not recognize the material they are now hearing. I am not quite sure, but I strongly suspect that the entire concept of "writing and publishing brand new fictional prose which may become a bestselling novel" has long since fallen into disrepute, and quite literally never happens any more! (I simply don't recall, offhand, if such things as "new movies" and "new television dramas" were ever stated or implied to still be coming out.)

  3. I believe the protagonist never repeated himself -- didn't just follow the same script (such as something from Shakespeare) several times a year, for instance. Instead, each time he would perform something he had never done before, which might or might not be an obvious continuation of the previous performance's material (such as simply reciting the next chapter from an ancient novel). The idea seemed to be that if the protagonist suddenly switched gears and performed something which seemed to have no connection to what he'd done last time around, this was presumed to indicate that he was being very subtle in following some overall plan to make a certain impact on his listeners, in the long run, in the "new experience" which he was giving them in installments. Possibly as a deliberate collage of passages from various ancient authors which all touched upon certain themes in different ways? (Or something like that -- as I said, my memories are hazy.)

  4. Toward the end, the protagonist reveals something shocking to one or more of the other characters. (I have a vague idea that his listener, or one of his listeners, may have been a woman whom he'd been dating.) The revelation is: Lately he's been reciting some of his own, original efforts at literature -- instead of, as was the Sacred Custom, merely offering his own take on something a great deal older than himself. Unless I am forgetting something important (which is a serious possibility), the "performance of Incredibly Obscure Existing Literary Material" approach was as close as anyone was "allowed" to come, in this future era, to producing a new stage play or piece of prose fiction.

  5. One of the reasons this story is nagging at me, now, is that I can't even remember just how it ended. I have a suspicion that the protagonist may have died at the end, or otherwise been facing severe punishment for his breach of tradition. (The tradition about "not composing new material" may have been written into the laws of the land -- I can't recall.) At any rate, I don't think it was a "classic happy ending" from the main character's perspective. I cannot recall if anything else of interest had been going on in other subplots in the course of the story.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

  • 1
    The only thing that this evokes is the Empire of Tsurannuanni in the Kelewan world (Feist), where "artists spend time perfecting things centuries old and nobody creates anything new", but that's an aside, not the main feature. And nobody dies for it. :)
    – JohnP
    Feb 15, 2018 at 17:42
  • Been so long since I read those books that I don't even recognize any of the text you put in quotes about what the local artists did. I'll just have to take your word for it.
    – Lorendiac
    Feb 19, 2018 at 2:11
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    Yes, it sounds very familiar to me, but I've been trying to remember if this is something I've read or if it's just pushing "familiarity" buttons in my brain. If you ever learn it, please post it here. :-)
    – Aster
    Feb 22, 2018 at 14:37
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    @Aster I promise -- if I ever find out, I'll come back and post an answer to my own question. Although it's not likely to happen other than by being answered on here -- I've literally read hundreds of SF anthologies over the years, and have no idea where to look for this one at this point. I've asked myself: "Can you remember any other stories that were definitely in the same book?", but that has gotten me nowhere.
    – Lorendiac
    Feb 23, 2018 at 1:39
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    @DannyMcG There are many different forms of entertainment in the modern world. I can't remember how many there were in the fictional future society of this story. Perhaps the protagonist's "theatrical monologuing" only appealed to a tiny slice of the population, but that was still enough people to make it a good way for him to support himself with regular performances? I'd love to reread the story so I could study just how thoroughly the author had worked out the details of that society, and how much was left to our imaginations.
    – Lorendiac
    Apr 8, 2019 at 0:44

1 Answer 1


Someone by the name of Guest posted an "answer" with more details, including key words of "TECT" and "Anaben". A Google Books search for those terms brought up excerpts in James Gunn's The Road to Science Fiction volume 4: From Here to Forever, from which I worked out that it was George Alec Effinger's "The Ghost Writer". Open Library has a copy of Universe 3, which contains that story, and it is a match.

First page of "The Ghost Writer"

HE WAS performing before several hundred million people, although he himself was the only person in the huge stadium....

Anabben proceeds to indeed perform fragments from ancient works, his consciousness guided by TECT.

It ends as you remember. A young boy tried to access the TECT, but is lost, whereupon Anabben admits he never actually traveled mentally via TECT.

[Last page and a half of "The Ghost Writer"2

"... I don't merely report, I write. There never was a Sandor Courane. His words are from my mind.".

Then, three "tectman" make him disappear for his sin.

It seems TECT was a plot element of other stories (and Sandor Courane did exist) as per this Kirkus Review of Wolves of Memory:

Super-computer TECT rules Earth, and everything's rosy--except that TECT seems determined to persecute unassuming Sandor Courane by forcing him into jobs for which is is patently unsuited. After Courane's third failure, TECT exiles him via matter transmitter to planet D, Epsilon Eridani, where he joins an agricultural community of fellow-exiles. But D's occupants are dying off at an alarming rate from an affliction (resembling Alzheimer's disease) whose most insidious symptom is progressive memory loss. Courane assumes that the exiles form two groups: incurables, sent to D to die, and prisoners (like Courane himself), whose punishment is to care for the dying. But D itself is the source of the disease, Courane discovers, so he struggles to find a cure and some explanations.

TECT and Courane also appears in the follow-up story, "Fatal Disk Error", although there, Courane is a science fiction author, killing off his literary creation. It and The Wolves of Memory are included in the collection, A Thousand Deaths, which gets more Courane tales, albeit not involving TECT.

  • At rehearsal. Will elaborate.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jul 9, 2019 at 1:37
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    Just now, I used Open Library to read the story in Universe 3. This has got to be it. (Although as soon as I read the screenshot of the bit which says his fragments in the first three performances didn't seem to fit together, I was pretty sure you had nailed it.) Thank you for answering this question, almost two and a half years after I had posted it!
    – Lorendiac
    Jul 9, 2019 at 5:57
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    @lorendiac: Kind of a shame Guest's post got deleted. They were on the right track.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jul 9, 2019 at 9:17
  • Yes, Guest was on the right track, but he should have posted his thoughts as a comment instead of as an "Answer." That's what I've done in similar circumstances, when I'm saying: "I think I remember reading this same story you're asking about. In addition to the details you provided, I also remember it included the following elements [which I then describe]." I've done that in hopes that it will jog a memory in some third party's brain, and he or she will then say, "Ah yes, that was [Insert Title] by [Insert Author] -- I reread that story in an anthology just last year!"
    – Lorendiac
    Jul 9, 2019 at 12:38

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