I read a short story I believe vaguely around 2003 in a print magazine. A group of astronomers sends a laser to bounce off a planet circling Alpha Centauri or some similarly close star. But it turns out the universe is a simulation, the planet is outside the bounds of the simulation, and the laser breaks the program and the universe collapses around us.

If it helps, I believe it may have been in the same issue of whatever print magazine that was which also had a novella about aliens who come to Earth and turn out to be essentially movie directors who try to manipulate us into a nuclear war so they can get good special effects (sounds silly the way I describe it, but was not comedic).

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    Just a side comment: The story you summarized from memory in the second paragraph of your post sounds something like Larry Niven's "War Movie," one of many short stories collected in the volume titled The Draco Tavern. But if the one you remember was of novella length, and if it was published in the early 2000s in the same magazine as the story Stephen Collings is offering in his Answer, then the resemblance is probably coincidental. (Or the Niven story from the early 1980s may have directly inspired the other story that you remember reading two decades later.)
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 1:35
  • Print magazine where? What country? What language? Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 2:04
  • That was almost definitely not an accident. At least for the one guy that had a theory about it.
    – phyrfox
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 2:52

1 Answer 1


This is "Touching Centauri" by Stephen Baxter. Collected in Phase Space, published in 2003. You can read the full text here.

From Wikipedia:

Scientists attempting to use a laser to contact another world inadvertently cause the end of their universe, while everyone struggles with the ultimate nature of their existence. (While snippets of the story are touched upon between each previous story, the full explanation is given here.)

Also published in Asimov's.

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    The Internet is an amazing place. Thank you! Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 0:24
  • Stephen Baxter is your go-to writer for "that type" of story!
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 12, 2018 at 18:52

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