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After hearing the recent announcement that scientists have stored a movie in DNA, I am reminded of a short story I read about a very similar concept; but I can't remember where I read it, the author, or its title. I only know that I would have read the story in the late 90s or early 2000s and it's possible that the story is decades older than that.

A company sold a drone that followed you around and acted as your personal videographer. The company would convert the movies it recorded into a DNA sequence and store them in a vat. The idea was that as a viewer you weren't able to choose which video you watched, but this was by design so that the videos could not be subpoenaed in the event that you did something illegal (I think?).

The story was told from the point of view of a deceased man's family who would occasionally (often?) view his recorded memories only to find that they kept seeing the same small set of movies, and over time the DNA storage degraded, leaving them with increasingly distorted video until it was all but indistinguishable. I remember the the tone of the story being somewhat melancholy or bittersweet.

Edit to be more specific about the most likely collections where I may have read the story (I have read many more, this list is not exhaustive):

I think I read the story in high school (class of 2000); our library had a small collection of short sci-fi compilations. The compilations were from mostly golden age and new age authors (50s-70s) such as Asimov, LeGuin, & Ellison.

My second guess would be that I read it in one of the "Year's Best SF" collections by David G. Hartwell & Kathryn Cramer. I no longer own these so I can't skim the stories.

Lastly (a long shot because I'm pretty sure the story DIDN'T win a Hugo) but I own a two-volume collection of the first 10-20 years of Hugo winning short stories, edited by Asimov. I'll look through these tonight and see if I can find the story.

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  • Take a look at this guide to help jog your memory and edit any more details.
    – Edlothiad
    Jul 14, 2017 at 13:32
  • Not really relevant to the question but I figured people may be interested: I got the collection of Hugo winners from my friend. His dad passed away, leaving behind a HUGE collection of sci-fi / fantasy books. It was an unused bedroom, the walls lined with bookcases overflowing with books, chairs under the windows with boxes of books, and a table occupying the middle of the room had even more. I only wish I had known at the time what a treasure I was looking at. He let me take what I wanted, but I only took the Hugo winners.
    – KJP
    Jul 14, 2017 at 14:49

1 Answer 1

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Snow by John Crowley

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_(Crowley_short_story)

A company sold a drone that followed you around and acted as your personal videographer.

**

A woman named Georgie becomes wealthy by marriage to her first husband. He buys her a self-surveillance device called a Wasp, a flying drone designed to record her life which she retains after his death.

The idea was that as a viewer you weren't able to choose which video you watched, but this was by design so that the videos could not be subpoenaed in the event that you did something illegal (I think?).

After her death, Georgie's recorded life is downloaded into a system called The Park, a type of digital cemetery in which her memories can be accessed by loved ones after her death. The narrator visits Georgie's "memories" but finds them distant, covering mostly memories he does not remember or care for and only accessible at random, with no organization allowing him to specify memories. Annoyed, the narrator queries the director, who explains that due to legal interests, recordings are required to be random to avoid legal vulnerability or screening and deleting of memories considered legal evidence.

The story was told from the point of view of a deceased man's family who would occasionally (often?) view his recorded memories only to find that they kept seeing the same small set of movies, and over time the DNA storage degraded, leaving them with increasingly distorted video until it was all but indistinguishable. I remember the the tone of the story being somewhat melancholy or bittersweet.

The narrator returns, accessing videos of Georgie alone, before and after his time with her. Noticing that the video appears to lose clarity, the narrator returns to the director, who informs him that over time, a small amount of degradation will happen to video quality. Returning later, the narrator finds even more degradation, resulting in video snow. The director, at this point, explains that he has explained the most he knows about loss of quality, and that other Park users have had similar problems.

"Snow" is collected in several places http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?41920 including "Masterpieces: The Best SF of the 20th Century" edited by Card.

The one missing piece (as the commenter pointed out) is that I haven't found specific evidence that DNA is the recording mechanism. More research is required....

Found my copy of the book - in the story, there's no specific mention of DNA - just that the recording is done at the molecular level, with small enough molecules holding each record that Brownian motion degrades the storage over time.

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    There is no mention of the data being stored in DNA in the Wikipedia article you linked, nor in the Lightspeed reprint of the story that is linked from the Wikipedia article. Feb 18 at 18:01
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    This sounds like the right story! I think I just assumed that the molecular storage was DNA. Marking as solved.
    – KJP
    Feb 25 at 17:38

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