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From an anthology read in my youth in the 70's. I recall it has the crew of a deep range rocket being feted on their return because the female crew members may be able to bear children (they had been away for Earth centuries but only a decade or so to the crew). Since a worldwide experiment in telepathy was introduced, society couldn't cope with knowing what others thought of them and suicides or voluntary celibacy has caused a population crash. There are no more women able to bear children. I've been put in mind of it because of the rise of Social Media and the way it exposes us to our uglier side.

Any help in naming author, title and anthology would be much appreciated. Thank you.

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    Try running through the checklist at scifi.stackexchange.com/tags/story-identification/info to figure out more details to add in, even vaguely remembered ones you're not entirely sure of. And what does "SM" mean in this context?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Aug 21, 2017 at 9:59
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    I didn't know what SoMe meant either.
    – ssav
    Aug 21, 2017 at 11:19
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    @ssav I didn't know what SoMe meant, but I thought SM was Sado-Masochism.
    – user14111
    Aug 21, 2017 at 11:31
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    @User14111, apologies, Freudian slit. Let's all move on.
    – Neil
    Aug 21, 2017 at 11:54
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    @Neil Very droll.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Aug 21, 2017 at 12:16

1 Answer 1

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"The New Wine", a short story by John Christopher. It has appeared in a number of anthologies and collections; any of these covers look familiar?

At the beginning of the story, the first interstellar expedition is about to leave for Procyon:

"That time factor," she said, "is it certain? I don't understand mathematics; to me it seems fantastic."

"I could go over the theory with you, but it would be wasting the little time we have. It's certain enough. The ratio, as far as this trip is concerned, is approximately twelve to one. For us, eight years—for the world we leave behind, a century. we return in late April in the year 2129. That's the nearest our predictions will take us."

Meanwhile, some mad embryologists are planning to make all newborn babies telepathic:

"But to do a thing like that, after only three experiments! And without any reference to the wishes of the people concerned. Aren't you afraid of it going wrong?"

"Have you considered the alternative to a simultaneous planetwide irradiation like the one we are doing? The principle has been discovered; you can't turn science backwards. The choice is between doing what we plan to do or having the advance take place piecemeal. If we did that, there would be trouble. Resentment of those family with ordinary children against those with telepaths. National resentments, leading perhaps to wars. All the confusion of an interregnum between the old and the new. we shall avoid all of that. The world will go forward in one giant's stride."

Needless to say, it goes horribly wrong. The astronauts come back to a dying world:

"Some of them grew up. Not many. They were all right as children—except the highly-strung ones, of course. But when they got to being ten or eleven and over it got them like flies. Maybe one in a hundred got out of the teens. I had a couple of kids myself; folks were always hoping that the effect would die away, though the scientists said it wouldn't, right from the start. My boy got to fifteen."

"But why did they die?" Rennis asked him. "What killed them? Was there something else as well as telepathy?"

He looked puzzled. "Why, no. The telepathy killed them, of course." To him, clearly, it was something self-evident. "Bound to. Some of them shot themselves or hanged themselves or whatever, but most of them just died."

"But why?" Harl said. "Why?"

"Because people have got bad minds. Why else? I guess you all know what you are like if you look at yourselves deep down and honest. Liars, cheats, murderers. I guess we're all like that—always have been. What comes out of our mouths has been . . . through a filter, I guess you might say. But there were no filters for the telepaths. It hit them and kept on hitting them all the time. The better any one of them was, the quicker it killed him—or her, but the girls lived longer, as a rule."

Awkright said listlessly: "So that's how it was."

Rennis said: "But was it a fixed mutation? Might there not be isolated outposts of the telepaths—and their children?"

"Their children?" The old man laughed. "The ones who grew up enough never married. You ever try falling in love with yourself?"

The old man was pinning his hopes on the female astronauts:

The old man said: "That's why I wanted to live to see you come back. So that things could start again."

They looked at him.

"They called me Lee after the captain," he said. "I knew all about the flight. I saw the records. That you had two women in the crew. Things can starg again now."

Rennis and Awkright turned and began to walk away.

"Yes," Harl said. "Two. Sub-Navigator Mary Rogers. Assistant Medic Lucy Parino. Aged, respectively, fifty-two and fifty-four."

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    I recognise the Anthology, Best SF but the title of the story isn't ringing any bells. Your intro rings true to my limited recollection. The only piece of dialogue which has stayed with me was the final line which goes something like "she is 54", nailing the last hope that the crew brought salvation with them.
    – Neil
    Aug 21, 2017 at 10:52
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    I confirm that it's "The New Wine", although they're not feted on their return; they eventually discover a single surviving human. But the last sentences are more or less as remembered: "'Sub-Navigator Mary Rogers, Assistant Medic Lucy Parino. Aged, respectively, fifty-two and fifty-four.' The breeze took the blossoms and tossed them up and down."
    – Mike Scott
    Aug 21, 2017 at 10:57
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    Ah. now it's coming back. You've got it. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my question, I'm very impressed. I'll head over to the second hand book market now. I'm afraid I probably won't be able to reciprocate as I tend to paddle in the shallow end of things. But if there is anything I can do, please ask.
    – Neil
    Aug 21, 2017 at 10:59
  • Too bad the year wasn't 2139 -- "In the year of '39..." Aug 22, 2017 at 2:50
  • Must confess that it didn't entirely convince me. After all, human history is chockfull of "arranged marriages" and "marriages of convenience" where there was no particular love involved. Also, though it would be nice to think that receiving his victim's terror would deter a rapist, I fear that in all too many cases this would simply add an extra buzz. Telepaths would be no more moral beings than anyone else, and would have their share of nasties
    – Mike Stone
    Nov 20, 2017 at 10:07

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