In a bookstore in the 1980s, I read the first pages of a hard science fiction novel that began with the memorable description of some creature or ship or intelligence that was like a shark swimming through space with the singular goal of turning anything it encountered into "shark shit".

For some reason I think it might have been by Frederik Pohl. Or maybe Harry Harrison or... I don't know.

Anyone know?

Edit: I just read the guide... I can't remember what it looked like but a few other details I can think of are that:

1) this thing was headed for our solar system, which would be Bad News for us...

2) I am almost sure that I put the book down because I hadn't read anything else by the author. Up to that point I am pretty sure that I'd only read Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, Frank Herbert, Larry Niven. So probably not by one of them... although I could be wrong.

Edit #2: I just tried a more thorough Google Books search than I have before and came across the passage from an old issue of Analog:


was largely untranslatable, but you might think of it manifesting as a kind of giant space-going shark, a moving appetite, a vast, fast, terrible eating- machine which saw its purpose to be turning everything edible in the universe into shark shit.

...apparently by John Wood Campbell in Analog Science Fiction/science Fact - Volume 106 - Page 162

So maybe a short story... trying to figure out how to see more of it.

  • 1
    Hi, welcome to SF&F! It's great to have the hook, but if you check out the guide it might help you remember some additional details to edit into your question. For example, do you recall any details of the cover, even just its colour?
    – DavidW
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 14:28
  • "Oh, my God, thought Shaffery. What a lousy thing to happen. They so seldom came in this close to shore. He didn’t even think about them. What a shame for a man who might have been Einstein to wind up, incomplete and unfulfilled, as shark shit." - FREDERIK POHL - SHAFFERY AMONG THE IMMORTALS. Nothing to do with spaceships though
    – Valorum
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 14:53
  • 1
    Thank you @Valorum... I just found and read a PDF of Shaffery Among The Immortals. It was new to me, but I guess my misremembering Pohl as the author of the story I'd seen must have stemmed from some past search for the phrase turning up the passage you quoted from Shaffery. Excuse the noob meta-question, but since I think it was the John Wood Campbell story, should I answer my own question?
    – Emrys
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 15:33
  • @Emrys John W Campbell was the editor of Analog for many years. He wrote very little of the fiction that it published.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 15:38
  • Ohhh that's why I recognized that name, of course, thanks @MikeScott. So if the December 1986 issue reference on Google Books is correct it would be one of these, from an eBay listing description, possibly Robert R. Chase's Bearings based on the cover image: Stories: "The Picture by Dora Gray" by Charles L. Harness, "Bearings" by Robert R. Chase, "The Year the Indy Died" by P.M. Fergusson, "Ashes" by Michael F. Flynn, and "Last Planet for Casey" by Bill Earls. ebay.ca/itm/…
    – Emrys
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 15:47

1 Answer 1


That's "The Mick of Time" by Spider Robinson, the last story in the collection Callahan's Secret. It was first published in the May 1986 issue of Analog, although it was by then edited by Stanley Schmidt, not John W Campbell. It's a short story not a novel, and it's not really hard SF, but it otherwise fits your description accurately.

The paragraph in question:

There was only one Master. We didn’t even know then just what a break that was. The telepathic aspect of the creature was largely untranslatable, but you might think of it manifesting as a kind of giant space-going shark, a moving appetite, a vast, fast, terrible eating-machine which saw its purpose to be turning everything edible in the universe into shark shit. Like a shark it was implacable, remorseless, unreachable. What made it much more terrible than any shark was that it was highly intelligent and very learned.

  • The ISFDb entry for that issue shows that this story (pp. 132-179) was indeed on the matched page (162).
    – DavidW
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 15:38
  • Wow thank you @MikeScott and DavidW that is awesome!
    – Emrys
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 15:50
  • :) Did you just know that one? Otherwise, care to share your search query? :-D
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 17:08
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    @FuzzyBoots The Google Books extract had a few words in it, so I searched for “universe into shark shit” (including the quotes), which gave a hit for an attributed quotation on TVTropes.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented May 21, 2019 at 17:27

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