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I'm trying to find the title (and author) of a short story I read in the 90s, but it's probably from the Golden Age of science fiction.

The story is about a ship in deep space that discovers that its rectilinear path through space is going to intersect perfectly with the rectilinear path of an alien spaceship--an astronomically unlikely coincidence, which baffles the crew. The main character is a man from the ship who has a hard time making friends. He gets in touch with a woman on the other ship who seems remarkably similar to himself (she also has a hard time making friends). The two communicate by radio and are hopeful that they can start a relationship. The story climaxes with the discovery that the other ship is made of "anti-matter," and so the two ships--and the two characters--can never physically interact with each other. (The discovery is made when something from the one ship meets up with something from the other--I forget what--and the two items explode in a bright flash of light. I seem to remember the crew experiencing a sour taste in their mouths, which they take to be evidence of nuclear radiation.) I think there were other parallels between the two ships--besides their intersecting trajectories and the two characters (man and woman)--which give the sense that the other ship comes from some sort of anti-matter mirror universe. In the end, the two ships go their separate ways. I can't remember if the two main characters die or not. Perhaps it is they which meet in space and explode, but I seem to remember them surviving and realizing that they can never be together. I'm not sure.

I read this in an anthology, not a magazine. I thought it was either Conklin's The Omnibus of Science Fiction or Silverberg's The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (Volume I), which are the only two anthologies I remember having as a kid in the 90s. But I'm 100% sure it's not in the latter (SFHF), which I just re-read in its entirety, and I can't find it in the former (OSF), either.

I know this story has some similarities to Murray Leinster's "First Contact" (1945), but it's not that story.

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F! This is a nice question, but in case there might be a few more details you can remember, you should check out the suggestions. Do you recall if you read this in a magazine or an anthology? Do you remember what the cover looked like? – DavidW Apr 1 at 3:47
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    I've read this one and actually have been trying to remember it myself. If it's the same one, the "discovery" that the other ship was anti-matter was made catastrophically when the man and the woman tried to dock shuttlecraft. – Emsley Wyatt Apr 1 at 4:11
  • Thanks to both of you--David and Emsley. I updated the post with some more details, David. And yes, Emsley, it sounds like the same story. I know there was some sort of explosion at the end, and it may very well have been the two main characters when they met in space. I added this detail to the question. – Dr. T Apr 1 at 12:10
  • Something like this happens to a human couple in Greg Bear's Anvil of Stars (1992), when a shuttlecraft (and all of its contents) carrying one of them is converted into antimatter, preventing it from docking with the mothership. – Gaultheria Apr 2 at 7:31
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Chance Encounter, by A Bertram Chandler, first published in New Worlds #81 (March 1959)

For a long second she [the alien]was silhouetted against the glow of the airlock light - - and then - - I was blind _ __ She had been there, just entering the boat, and then she and the boat had vanished in one dreadful flash."Anti matter" said Liddell "We've known for centuries that it can exist - -"And what happens" I asked "when it's two living bodies of the two kinds of matter that make the contact?" "You saw" said Liddell.

  • This looks right to me! I'll have to track down a copy of the story to be 100% sure, but I'm 95% sure this is correct. Thanks, Mike! – Dr. T Apr 2 at 12:46
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    @Dr.T Consider it tracked down. archive.org/details/New_Worlds_081v27_1959-03/page/n83 – user14111 Apr 2 at 13:45
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    Bingo-I saw it in that "Starships" collection. – Emsley Wyatt Apr 2 at 20:54
  • Thanks, user14111! I read the story, and that's definitely it. I must have seen in in the 1983 Starships collection as well. Thanks to all three of you for your help! – Dr. T Apr 3 at 3:22

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