Short story plot: Narrator notices that the quality of a friend's BBS or Usenet posts has improved -- just expanded diction and perfect spelling, at first, I think. He finds out his friend has been using some unknown-brand modem (I think it was mentioned as having an unsettling red indicator LED), which seems to be improving his posts automatically. Evidence of self-aware AI mounts, and after some panicked last communication from the owner to the narrator, it appeared to have killed the owner -- I think maybe by triggering an electrical fire -- but that couldn't be proven.

(I have some recollection of a device killing it's owner by using a basilisk/Snowcrash-like image to transmit a mind virus that causes the owner to kill himself by sticking his head in a microwave oven with a defeated safety interlock, but I think that element was from some other story. This element is indeed from a different story, "Press Enter ■" IDed in the comment by JAB, below.)

This was probably in an Analog, Asimov's, or F&SF from the '80s, although it could have also been elsewhere and appeared in some collection.


1 Answer 1


This appears to be "Pickman's Modem" (ISFDB) by Lawrence Watt-Evans. It was indeed published in Asimov's (though 1992, not 80s).

A decent summary can be found here:

As the story progress and the narrator, George, has brief Internet encounters with Pickman, the story spirals into the wonderful Mythos pitfalls that ensnare a large number of characters. Pickman and George get together and investigate strange messages. Pickman’s postings and emails are being rewritten after they are sent and before they reach the intended reader.

  • I hope you don't mind, but I embedded the ISFDB link and added one to Lawrence Watt-Evans's site's entry.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Oct 9, 2018 at 14:09
  • Found a copy online; indeed this is it, thank you. The summary you linked perhaps exaggerates a bit — it doesn't really ensnare a large number of characters, other than escalating a flame war with some unnamed correspondents with florid insults. I had forgotten (having perhaps not understood at the time) the Cthulhu mythos references, e.g. "it was an oblong of black plastic, featureless save for the two red lights that shone balefully from the front and the small metal plate bolted to one side where incised letters spelled out 'Miskatonic Data Systems, Arkham MA, Serial #R1LYEH'". Tag added.
    – Jacob C.
    Oct 11, 2018 at 22:18
  • And the tag has now been removed. @TheLethalCarrot I put it in for the reason stated above. Someone else may remember it as a Cthulhu mythos story and search for it on that basis. Why did you remove the tag?
    – Jacob C.
    Oct 24, 2018 at 17:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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