I'm looking for a book containing a specific scene. I don't remember exactly when I read it, but it was at least 10 years ago. The scene is largely unrelated to the main events of the book, and I don't remember what the rest of the book was about. This also means it wouldn't show up in a plot summary.

A young girl is being held in a research facility, or something similar. She has the unusual ability to know the current NYSE stock prices, with no delay. This was before the modern internet, so I believe "normally" you'd need to wait for the next day's newspaper - so it's information she couldn't possibly know, but not predictions that could be used to exploit the stock market. This girl is being studied to try and figure out how she gets the prices, but there's no real explanation - i.e. she's isolated, shielded from any kind of radio waves or contact with outside people, the staff are rotated out to ensure they aren't in on the "scam", etc.

I believe there are other children, with similar abilities, such as a boy that can describe the current events of a television show without access to a receiver - completely inexplicable, but also completely useless.

The "moral" of this scene was that there were two explanations for these abilities: the implausible (someone is going through a lot of effort to trick us for no benefit) or the impossible (magic exists; or fortune telling is real; or something similarly fantastical that most people would flat out dismiss as nonsense), and it is the impossible explanation that is actually more likely. I don't remember the exact reasoning used here, which is why I want to re-read the book.

The main character (I think a woman, 20-30 years old) is not related to this research center and is guided there/discovers it due to their own seemingly-impossible circumstances. This scene served to guide the main character's thought process to consider the obvious explanation, despite it being impossible. I don't remember the unusual event was, but I vaguely recall Thor being involved. It was definitely something fantastical in an otherwise mundane world, i.e. there's no overt magic, the gods don't walk among us.

It's been so long I'm sure I have details mixed up, and may have the Thor connection jumbled with some other media. I'm not positive about any of the genders or ages. It's definitely a very minor scene in the overall book, but it's the only thing I remember.

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    Before the Internet -- 100 years before -- stock market prices were transmitted in near-real-time by 'ticker' systems. The connection (feed) for these was expensive so mostly only brokers and large financial institutions had them, and ordinary people waited for the newspaper. Although technology has changed, professionals and most investors still call any realtime display a 'ticker', and we still identify stocks using abbreviated 'ticker symbols' like T = Amer Telephone & Telegraph, XOM = Exxon Mobil Oil, etc. Mar 5, 2020 at 6:18

1 Answer 1


I believe this is Douglas Adams' Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul with the only difference that the poor girl is endlessly reciting yesterday's stock prices.

For a fleeting instant her eyes caught Kate's, and the message Kate received was along the lines of "I'm sorry but you'll just have to excuse me while all this is going on." The girl took a deep breath, half-closed her eyes in resignation and continued her relentless silent murmuring.

Kate leant forward a little in an attempt to catch any actual words, but she couldn't make anything out. She shot an enquiring look up at Standish.

He said, simply, "Stock market prices."

A look of amazement crept over Kate's face.

Standish added with a wry shrug, "Yesterday's, I'm afraid."

Kate flinched at having her reaction so wildly misinterpreted, and hurriedly looked back at the girl in order to cover her confusion.

"You mean," she said, rather redundantly, "she's just sitting here reciting yesterday's stock market prices?" The girl rolled her eyes past Kate's.

"Yes," said Standish. "It took a lip reader to work out what was going on. We all got rather excited, of course, but then closer examination revealed that they were only yesterday's which was a bit of a disappointment. Not that significant a case really. Aberrant behaviour. Interesting to know why she does it, but--"

"Hold on a moment," said Kate, trying to sound very interested rather than absolutely horrified, "are you saying that she is reciting - what? - the closing prices over and over, or--"

"No. That's an interesting feature of course. She pretty much keeps pace with movements in the market over the course of a whole day. Just twenty-four hours out of step."

"But that's extraordinary, isn't it?"

"Oh yes. Quite a feat."

"A feat?"

"Well, as a scientist, I have to take the view that since the information is freely available, she is acquiring it through normal channels. There's no necessity in this case to invent any supernatural or paranormal dimension. Occam's razor. Shouldn't needlessly multiply entities."

"But has anyone seen her studying the newspapers, or copying stuff down over the phone?"

She looked up at the nurse, who shook her head, dumbly.

"No, never actually caught her at it," said Standish. "As I said, it's quite a feat. I'm sure a stage magician or memory man could tell you how it was done."

She also meets a man who speaks every word that Dustin Hoffman speaks, a second before he says it, and a woman whose automatic writing appears to convey new insights from dead physicists like Einstein, Heisenberg, Planck, etc.

Thor, of course, is definitely involved in the book. Just the combination Thor+young woman made me think of the book and I just had to go looking for the quote.

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    @AJFaraday Well, they don't walk among us as gods. Odin is just some old rich dude with an unhealthy predilection for pressed linen sheets. Thor is stuck in the U.K. because he can't catch a plane or a boat to Scandinavia. And the rain God is just a truck driver with bad weather karma.
    – DavidW
    Mar 4, 2020 at 13:34
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    @SusanW Gee, he's dead. Doesn't really change how I read his work.
    – AJFaraday
    Mar 4, 2020 at 13:47
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    @AJFaraday oh whoosh. Google "on Earth we have a word called tact". Berlin Wall. You know. :-)
    – SusanW
    Mar 4, 2020 at 13:50
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    @AJFaraday The 'rain god' was from So Long And Thanks For All the Fish, not this one. Mar 4, 2020 at 13:59
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    I immediately thought of this upon reading the OP as well, but for me the tip-off was the idea that, contradicting a famous Sherlock Holmes statement, if the "improbable" is improbable enough, then it is more likely we are wrong about what is impossible. That has been a favorite take-away for me from this book. Mar 4, 2020 at 17:43

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