9

I'm trying to remember a short story I read many years ago about the negative side of developing and deploying advanced weapons technology in an SF setting. It was about some intergalactic power that was trying to crush an adversary by using multiple new military technologies and how each one in turn caused this power so much grief it was defeated by the adversary. I think it was also required reading for military strategists at some schools here in the US, at least at the time I read it. I think the story was written by Brian Aldiss.

6
  • Can you remember anything else about the actual story itself?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Jan 28, 2020 at 16:45
  • @TheLethalCarrot - Yes, vaguely. It was about some intergalactic power that was trying to crush an adversary by using multiple new military technologies and how each one in turn caused this power so much grief it was defeated by the adversary. I think it was also required reading for military strategists at some schools here in the US, at least at the time I read it. Jan 28, 2020 at 16:50
  • 3
    Are you thinking of Arthur C. Clarke's "Superiority?" See scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/857/…
    – DavidW
    Jan 28, 2020 at 16:51
  • 1
    You should edit that into the question, anything extra helps.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Jan 28, 2020 at 16:54
  • Was there a field that resulted in (originally) identical fasteners becoming non-interchangeable within the same ship?
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Jan 28, 2020 at 16:56

1 Answer 1

15

I will suggest that this is actually the classic story "Superiority" by Arthur C. Clarke, first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, August 1951. You can read it at the Internet Archive.

The advanced civilization is menaced by a more vigorous, but in every other way inferior enemy, but at every stage they are convinced to wait for yet another advance that will fix the problems of the previous advance and make victory even more assured. But nothing ever works well enough to make up for the delay, and ultimately the war is lost because no ship is ever available and in shape to fight.

The ultimate cause of our failure was a simple one: despite all statements to the contrary, it was not due to lack of bravery on the part of our men, or to any fault of the Fleet's. We were defeated by one thing only - by the inferior science of our enemies. I repeat - by the inferior science of our enemies.

It was Professor-General Norden who kept seducing the high command with the prospect of ever-better weapons and tactics in the future:

Norden's words left an uncomfortable impression, as he had no doubt intended. He quickly pressed home the attack.

"What we want are new weapons - weapons totally different from any that have been employed before. Such weapons can be made: it will take time, of course, but since assuming charge I have replaced some of the older scientists with young men and have directed research into several unexplored fields which show great promise. I believe, in fact, that a revolution in warfare may soon be upon us."

His "Sphere of Annihilation" destroys the projector, so it has to be turned into missiles, at great cost and expense of time. And then there are problems with the new weapon, so it still can't be deployed.

The "Battle Analyzer" is too big, and too man-power intensive and ultimately too fragile in battle.

Finally the "Exponential Field" destroys the entire fleet; it never returns to exactly the same starting point, so after every use, everything goes out of adjustment, and parts don't even work between ships. No standard spares are possible, and the fleet falls apart.

2
  • 1
    There it is, the "Exponential Field" is the one I recall where two same-size screws from different parts of the ship will no longer interchange.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Jan 28, 2020 at 17:23
  • 1
    @ZeissIkon "Not a single component of one ship could be expected with certainty to work aboard another. The very nuts and bolts were no longer interchangeable, and the supply position became quite impossible. [...] Our magnificent Fleet, crippled by our own science, fought on as best it could until it was overwhelmed and forced to surrender."
    – DavidW
    Jan 28, 2020 at 18:17

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.