I remember reading an amazing short story/novella (at least 15+ years ago) that focused on a universe where it has been discovered that the vastness of space drives the pilots of spaceships insane over time. The only people that seem to be able to withstand this are people with mental disabilities; they are described in the story similar to being on the spectrum of autism, if i remember correctly. They are then trained to be the pilots of these spaceships, since they’re not affected by the vastness of space. The big reveal in the story, as it was told through the eyes of one of these pilots, was that, sometimes, these pilots would be 'healed‘ by their exposure and 'wake up‘ (i.e. overcome their conditions).

Does anybody have an idea what story that could be?

  • 4
    There's an outside chance that it could be Scanners Live in Vain. It doesn't match the 'healing' part though, so I'm reluctant to post it as an answer. Feb 21, 2018 at 20:35
  • The Eric Olafson chronicles by Vanessa Ravencroft use autistic folks as navigators, because they are better at the computer interface for it, but no mention of curing, etc. Also only online until very recently so if it was printed 10+ years ago that wouldn't be it. Good reading though...
    – ivanivan
    Feb 21, 2018 at 20:41
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    So when they 'heal' and 'wake up' they are no longer immune to the 'vastness of space' and go insane?
    – user14111
    Feb 22, 2018 at 1:25
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    When they ‚heal‘ (and yes, i don‘t like the term either and it doesn‘t make sense in the context of autism, but it‘s how it was presented in the story) they are, in essence, very confused by where they are and what‘s been happening to them, but they don‘t necessarily remember. If I remember correctly, they then can‘t be the Navigators anymore. Feb 22, 2018 at 7:03
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    Not anything like "Scanners Live in Vain." Those people are artificially modified so that they cannot feel the physical pain and agony that interstellar travel causes. It's not a psychological thing, it is actual physical pain. The scanners monitor the bodies of the modified people since they themselves cannot feel when their bodies are damaged or need rest.
    – JRE
    Mar 3, 2019 at 18:33

1 Answer 1


The story is "The Star-Pit" (1967) by Samuel R. Delaney, from the collection Driftglass.

I think this summary below hits all the key elements you mentioned: intergalactic travel, insanity, autism (or being "golden," as it is called in the story).

The first story in the book, “The Star-Pit” opened with some serious VanderMeer vibes. The main character, Vyme, describes an “ecologarium” (a self-contained ecosystem) set up on a beach for the education of the children in his procreation group. Inside this enclosed space are crystalline plants, small sloth-like creatures with suction-cup appendages and flying lizards that start out as larvae. And while we don’t stay with this opening image for very long, it informs the rest of the story. In the present Vyme is a mechanic who fixes and maintains starships at the edge of the galaxy. To be able to travel any further than that edge, one has to be a “golden”, a person who is psychologically different in a specific way that enables them to cope with extensive space travel. Vyme is friends with thirteen-year-old Ratlit, also a mechanic at the neighbouring Poloscki’s, and the story concerns itself with these two, Vyme’s employee Sandy, the wonderful projective telepath Alegra and the feelings of enclosure that all people seem to feel, irrespective of how far out in to space they are able to travel.


Another resource with more details and reflection/analysis of the story.

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