7

In this short story, the creation of a machine, working on the principle of E=MC^2, provides nearly limitless energy, and allows everyone to create anything they want, for the input of a little dirt.

This leads to unparalleled prosperity. BUT at the end of the story we find out by overuse of the technology the Earth is shrunken, and hollowed out.

  • This is literally the plot of Superman – Valorum Jan 21 '18 at 10:34
  • This certainly fits the description I gave, but this story lacks the sense of whimsy I seem to remember. The passage of time may account for this. – Ozzaib Jan 21 '18 at 23:50
  • probably the same as scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/206863/… (which is newer but has an accepted answer) – Otis Apr 15 at 22:49
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"The Dwindling Sphere", a short story by Willard Hawkins, also the (unaccepted) answer to the old question Future humans build using dirt, go to war over small amounts of it; first published in Astounding Science-Fiction, March 1940, available at the Internet Archive.

I was amused on my last day by a question asked by a ten-year-old boy, the son of one of the supervisors. We stood on a rampart overlooking one of the vast production pits, several hundred feet deep and miles across—the whole space filled with a bewildering network of towers, girders, cranes, spires and cables, across and through which flashed transports of every variety. Far below us, the center of all this activity, could be discerned the huge conversion plant, in which the rock is reduced to plastocene-B.

The little boy looked with awe at the scene, then turned his face upward, demanding, "What are we going to do when this hole gets so big that it takes up the whole world?"

We laughed, but I could sympathize with the question. Man is such a puny creature that it is difficult for him to realize what an infinitesimal thing on the Earth's surface is a cavity which to him appears enormous. The relationship, I should say, is about the same as a pinprick to a ball which a child can toss in the air.

[. . . .]

On one occasion it was the legend that, instead of being twin planets, our earth and Luna were at one time of differing sizes, and that Luna revolved around the earth as some of the distant moons revolve around their primaries. This theory has been thoroughly discredited. It is true that there is a reduction of the earth's mass every time we scrape its surface to produce according to our needs; but it is incredible that the earth could ever have been several times the size of its companion planet, as these imaginative theorists would have us believe.

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