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I read this short story quite some time ago (about 20 years) but it stayed with me as the theme was very memorable. I'd love to find the book that the story appears in.

The story consists of someone whose job is to write papers consisting of other people's work (like an academic, for example). Everyone seemed to do this for their work. A lot of importance is placed on all the references they must use. It is obligatory to use these. Everyone lives in their own separate rooms/houses but never go out as everything is done remotely. I thought this was "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster, but I don't think it is, I think it's another shorter story that is similar, not about a woman and not as long.

The main protagonist becomes suspicious about why people never meet in real life, so he decides to conduct an experiment. He organised a party (or reunion) and invites all his friends. One by one they contact him with reasons for not coming until only a few are left. I can't recall the ending of the story but it's possibly about him being left on his own at the party, or not even wanting to go himself.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

  • I first though that it could be "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster (1909), but it doesn't fit all the details. – Klaus Æ. Mogensen Mar 8 '18 at 14:52
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    Sorry I should have checked the correct title, I do mean The Machine Stops. I don't think its that story, I recently got an online copy and read a fair amount of it. – Boshy Mar 8 '18 at 17:38
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    I edited the question based on your recent comment. I hope you get an answer. This sounds like a story I'd like to read. – Aster Mar 8 '18 at 18:10
  • It sounds a little like "Huddling Place" by Clifford Simak, part of the fix-up novel "City". Similarities- the surgeon protagonist spends his time writing academic papers on neurosurgery and rarely leaves his home; He tries to in order to perform life-saving surgery on a very important Martian thinker, but is wracked by agoraphobia; he invites other to a gathering, a large number make excuses not to come ( A few do), and theorizes human race is moving toward racial agoraphobia. Differences; Not everyone does academic research ( That sounds like Foundation ). Any help? – Covertwalrus Apr 30 '18 at 23:57
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    Thanks Covertwalrus. I'll check these two stories out it sounds like there are quite a few similarities. – Boshy May 1 '18 at 13:03
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I believe the story might be 'Huddling Place' by Clifford D. Simak, part of his 'City' series of short stories. Everyone lives in their own home out in the country; cities have been abandoned. All communication is done remotely; travel is by personal plane or 'copter, servants are robots. The main protagonist is a physician and author of a major work in the medical field. He is shown reading over papers several times. He becomes suspicious about his own inability to leave his home for very long and decides to conduct an experiment. Here's the relevant paragraph:

Webster lifted his eyes from the sheaf of papers on his desk, sniffed the breeze, felt the- cool whisper of it on his cheek. His hand reached out for the brandy glass, found it empty, and put it back.

He bent back above the papers once again, picked up a pencil and crossed out a word.

Critically, he read the final paragraphs:

The fact that of the two hundred fifty men who were invited to visit me, presumably on missions of more than ordinary importance, only three were able to come, does not necessarily prove that all but those three are victims of agoraphobia. Some may have had legitimate reasons for being unable to accept my invitation. But it does indicate a growing unwillingness of men living under the mode of Earth existence set up following the breakup of the cities to move from familiar places, a deepening instinct to stay among the scenes and possessions which in their mind have become associated with contentment and graciousness of life.

Here's a link to the story: https://vdocuments.site/huddling-place.html

And to the 'City' series: https://epdf.tips/city0bc01d08b7c4e64fed52fcca64f244ca736.html

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