11

Plot Details/Summary

Another one where I have only sketchy memories of the tale, I fear. The setting for this one is the near future (from the writer's perspective, which I think was the 1970s). Man's reached a point where bloodshed and loss of life are no longer necessary to settle conflicts. Instead, all disputes are settled through an annual combat held on the surface of the moon, using the best combat machines each nation can come up with.

The protagonist, as I recall, is an engineer for the Americans. He recollects past conflicts, and the circumstances for this years fracas. Much of the combat is told from his observers' perspective.

The actual conflict is a rather clever affair, with a description of each team's designs and all the tricks and gee-whiz things they built into them. The protagonist's team manages to prevail, when they managed to use an attack as a feint, with the real attack being a swarm of microscopic machines (they did not use the term nanites) that destroyed the opposing machine from the inside.

Timeframe/Other Details

I think this one dates from the 1970s. I don't think it more recent, given my recollections of when I read it, and also the technology descriptions they used in it. There is an outside chance that the combat is not between rival nations, but rival corporations. That would change the premise of "man evolving beyond bloodshed", of course. I think it's nations fighting, though. I am almost 100% certain this was in a sci-fi magazine, not an anthology.

  • 1
    whatever it is i think it sounds like a great idea. you can even broadcast it as a tv show... im down. somebody start a kickstarter... – Odin1806 Sep 10 '17 at 19:50
  • 3
    Much of this matches Stanislaw Lem's "Peace on Earth" (conflicts fought on the moon by automated machines, protagonist is sent as an observer to see what's going on, the conflict is ended by microscopic machines disabling all technology. However "Peace on Earth" is from the mid-eighties and has a rather surreal tone to it which is not reflected in the question, so I don't think that's it. – Eike Pierstorff Sep 10 '17 at 19:58
  • @Eike Pierstorff That may well be the story I'm thinking of. My recollection is vague enough that I may not be remembering the correct timeframe and/or the surreal nature of the story. So many of the details do match up. I'll see if I can find a copy online. – Helbent IV Sep 11 '17 at 0:12
  • 1
    Whops, sorry, the question said short story - Peace on Earth is a somewhat hefty novel, so that's certainly not it. – Eike Pierstorff Sep 11 '17 at 10:29
8

"A Short History of World War LXXVIII", a short story by Roy L. Prosterman in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, April 1977.

Man's reached a point where bloodshed and loss of life are no longer necessary to settle conflicts. Instead, all disputes are settled through an annual combat held on the surface of the moon, using the best combat machines each nation can come up with.

"But, after the indescribable ravages of World War III, it had become clear that human survival demanded a wholly different approach to conflict. Fortunately, perhaps essentially, this realization coincided with the development of machines that were far superior in every way to human operators in carrying out acts of destruction. Even two hundred years ago"—here sections from an ancient communication called "Newsweek" and made, apparently, of cloth or some similar substance, flashed upon the screen—"technicians were talking about the possibility of an 'Automated Battlefield'." Here, computer animation took over, showing a series of still rather primitive machines confronting one another on a field. There were explosions, grindings, and tearings. Drones hummed through the air. Many of the machines disappeared. There were no humans present.

[. . . .]

"Initially, in World Wars IV through VIII"—here the screen switched to tri-di images, of juggernauts assailing one another against a barren landscape—"remote areas of Earth were used for purposes of combat.

"After 2025, however, it became possible to transfer the situs of fighting to Luna, and this is where all subsequent wars have been fought." The screen cut from sleek, complex juggernauts belching and clashing on remote Earthscapes, to similar scenes, cut and interspliced, on bleak, level Moonscapes.

The protagonist's team manages to prevail, when they managed to use an attack as a feint, with the real attack being a swarm of microscopic machines (they did not use the term nanites) that destroyed the opposing machine from the inside.

What won it for the Usa, as we later discovered, were the "brain eaters."

Amidst all the thudding and flashing, a hatch had winked open on the hidden side of the sphere, and ejected a vast number of tiny spheres, outwardly looking like Plasticorp scale models. Inwardly, they were something quite different.

Deploying in a great arc, they had slowly rolled toward the Saudi hemisphere—when it moved, they followed. Most were scorched or blasted, but a few, coming within a click of the enemy, dissolved. And became a series of still smaller spheres, crawling slowly towards their target. Most of these, too, did not reach it. Most of those that did were fried or thrust away.

But a few, very few, found momentary orifices where there were weapons being discharged or locomotion being arranged. They darted inside.

[. . . .]Steadily they multiplied, steadily they catalyzed, steadily they consumed their favored environment. When they reached the limit that environment would support, they died, or inactivated.

Contrary to popular belief, they did not "eat" the Saudi computer. They simply "ate up" the supercooled helium on which it depended for continued efficient operation—and turned it, and the lubricants, and all the ambient fluids and gases, to something else. Ethereal glop. Computers were built to work in cold helium, not ethereal glop. Biologically or chemically active, therefore relatively "hot" glop. The Saudis were ethereally glopped.

I am almost 100% certain this was in a sci-fi magazine, not an anthology.

As far as the ISFDB knows, the story has never been reprinted.

  • That is unquestionably the story I was trying to remember. – Helbent IV Sep 12 '17 at 6:58
  • 1
    @HelbentIV Oops, I left off an L and a V from the Roman numeral. Fixed now. – user14111 Sep 12 '17 at 7:02
4

I read this one or something a whole lot like it, I think in a 1970s edition of Analog. The version I read was a "war" between "Usa" (that one I remember) and Arabia (although I don't think it was called that).

Two robots fight it out on the moon, Usa wins (of course). The kicker line was that oil prices would remain lower for a while as a result.

I believe the title was something along the lines of "World War 23", although my attempts to track it down in Google for all numbers between 18 and 25 always returned something about WWII.

  • 1
    This is the one I was thinking of. Can't remember the exact name. – zeta-band Sep 11 '17 at 21:50
  • 2
    Using Google was your mistake. I used the ISFDB to get a list of SF short stories with "world war" in the title, sorted by date. Then I just had to get out my copy of the April 1977 Analog to make sure "World War LXXVIII" matched the description. – user14111 Sep 12 '17 at 8:28
  • Oh I will definitely need to remember that link. – Maury Markowitz Sep 12 '17 at 11:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.