• Media: Short story
  • When: I read this in school back in the 90's so I assume it is by a well known Sci-Fi author
  • Plot: A man is explaining to another about his new scientific process of delivering political speeches. He explains that it's not so much what's in the speech but how the speech is delivered. They make a wager and pick some random person to deliver a speech with no real meaning. The scientist writes the speech and practices with the man for a day or so to get the exact right tone of voice and pitch on certain key words. When the man delivers the speech the audience is worked up into great excitement, cheering for the man. The scientist comes to the realization of how dangerous a discovery this is.
  • Setting: Don't remember
  • Characters: Main characters where a scientist and his friend but I don't remember names.
  • Language: English
  • Target Audience: I suppose teenage-adult? No profanity or anything just a shocking realization at the end which requires some understanding of politics/society.

Thinking this must be a Ray Bradbury story I have done some googling but could not find it.

  • What particular parts of this story are SF&F? From what you described so far, it sounds more like a socio-political story based in the real world. – DCOPTimDowd Jun 7 '18 at 18:49
  • If it is SF, it sounds more like Ballard than Bradbury, but I don't recognise it. – Daniel Roseman Jun 7 '18 at 18:56
  • I assume Bradbury or Asimov. Both were pretty scathing about politicians – Valorum Jun 7 '18 at 18:57
  • 4
    @DCOPTimDowd: I feel like a scientific process to create the perfect speech is pretty sci-fi. – FuzzyBoots Jun 7 '18 at 18:59
  • Asimov, or maybe Bova. Did the scientist try to analyze by computer what makes a "good" speech? Using orators like, perhaps Hitler and King? – Emsley Wyatt Jun 8 '18 at 1:47

Isaac Asimov, "Ignition Point!" (1981)

Available in Asimov's collection The Winds of Change and Other Stories (1983). A limited number of copies of this book are available to borrow from The Internet Archive.

The ISFDB has the complete list of publications containing "Ignition Point!".

"Every crowd has its ignition point"

"[S]peakers have their ignition point, too."

— Quotes from the original story, from the Google Books listing for The Winds of Change and Other Stories

"Ignition Point!" gives us a company of the future whose computer can write speeches guaranteed to "ignite" any audience.

Review by s.ferber on amazon.ca

Throwing Out the Script: "Ignition Point!" is about a man who figures out how to write carefully constructed content-free speeches that will get audiences fired up. In the first test, the speechwriter stops in the middle, throws away the speech, and starts improvising -- the speech worked on him, too.


  • This sounds like it although some plot points (based on the reviews) seem different from what I (mis)remember... But I started to think I remembered the name late last night and thought it was "Boiling Point" or "Flash Point" so this is almost certainly it. – Mike Jun 8 '18 at 20:55
  • A review from user stochasticooze on LibraryThing: "A story about a "genial idiot", and a man trying to use his charm for his own gain. He's approached with the idea of giving the moron cues crafted by a computerized system which constructs a speech based on the makeup of the audience. Without spoiling too much, it will suffice to say that the user gets burned... – Mike Jun 8 '18 at 20:57

"The Snowball Effect" by Katherine MacLean, originally published in Galaxy in September 1952.

The president of a small college is in the midst of a fiscal crisis and, in attempts to cut his budget, he insists that the head of the Sociology Department justify “what is sociology good for?” This sets off a chain of events in which the department head devises an experiment in institutional growth in which the two men find a small sewing club in an equally-small town and set up conditions by which the club’s membership will grow larger and larger until it reaches the saturation point and the club crumbles on its own unwieldy size. The latter, however, doesn't happen, and the sewing club is on the path to becoming a world government.

The full story can be read online here.

The Snowball Effect book cover

  • Similar, but not (I don't think) the right story. – Valorum Jun 8 '18 at 13:07
  • Interesting sounding story, but not the one I'm thinking of. – Mike Jun 8 '18 at 16:21

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