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In the mid-70's, my dad was attending university and had a paperback book anthology of short stories which was for a fiction class. From the best of my memory...

One story I read from the book was about a future civilization living underground with the constant hum of machinery (this constant hum seemed to be a major plot point). I think the story was all told from one individual's point of view. When the main character traveled to the long-forgotten aboveground he nearly couldn't take the quiet.

I think the book may have only contained science fiction but can't be sure because I don't know that I read more than the one story. Anyone have any ideas what the story might have been named?

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    A shot in the dark: did the book look like this? isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?29210
    – user14111
    Oct 6, 2020 at 5:43
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    Not a short story, but Asimov's Prelude to Foundation had similar themes; the natives of Trantor (an entirely covered over planet) found being on the surface (above the opaque domes) extremely uncomfortable, partially due to agoraphobia, partially due to lack of noise. The main character isn't a Trantor native, but immediately notices the lack of baseline "hum" when he leaves the domes for the surface. Oct 6, 2020 at 13:57
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    It is from 20 years later but The Death Gate Cycle has a scene like this. The dwarfs keep the Kicksey-winsey machine running and are always around noise. Untill one of them is taken away.
    – Barfieldmv
    Oct 6, 2020 at 15:14
  • possibly the same as scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/97207/…
    – Otis
    Feb 12, 2022 at 1:14

1 Answer 1

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This isn't a close match but I'll mention it in case it is the story, and time has not been kind to your memories. It was the story that immediately came to mind when I read your question. Anyhow I'd like to suggest The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster. I read it in the early 1970s as a boy and still remember the paragraph describing the experience of the protagonist's mother Vashti when the machine stops:

She had never known silence, and the coming of it nearly killed her - it did kill many thousands of people outright. Ever since her birth she had been surrounded by the steady hum. It was to the ear what artificial air was to the lungs, and agonizing pains shot across her head.

However the steady hum is not a main plot point. In fact I don't think it's mentioned prior to this. The protagonist Kuno does visit the surface but does not notice the lack of noise. Indeed he finds it idyllic (except that he finds it hard to breathe the air).

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  • I bet that's it. First one I thought of, but I couldn't remember the part about the silence being terrifying. And I thought Vashti was the protagonist.
    – user14111
    Oct 6, 2020 at 5:28
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    @user14111 for some reason that line it nearly killed her - it did kill many has stayed in my memory for 50 years (and counting). It's strange how sometimes a phrase or idea strikes you so hard it stays with you. Oct 6, 2020 at 5:35
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    The OP might well have read it in this anthology, a 1971 trade paperback designed to be used as a college text.
    – user14111
    Oct 6, 2020 at 5:43
  • This was my thought as well. I read it in the Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, however that seems to be a relatively new publication (2010)
    – JPeroutek
    Oct 6, 2020 at 13:21

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