Its a short sci-fi story from 50s/60s/70s where two factions are fighting.

They try to outdo one another by constantly putting more advanced weapon guidance systems on their missiles.

Eventually their tech becomes so advanced that their defense systems can predict the point of attack and no offensive attacks are successful.

This leads to putting humans into rockets for kamikaze attacks as humans remain unpredictable in flight.

  • This doesn't match all, but Lester del Rey's "For I Am a Jealous People!" does put people in rockets. It has a strong religious theme which is missing from your question.
    – NomadMaker
    May 6, 2021 at 4:31
  • There's a person inside a rocket towards the end of Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, but for reasons that (TBH) I never fully understood. Also, IIRC there's only the one rocket, and the person inside doesn't control it. May 6, 2021 at 15:07
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    I remember a story that fits this description. It was in Analog, probably in the 70s. The pilot was the viewpoint character. The story alternated between scenes of him in the cockpit flying his mission, and scenes from his recent past explaining how he got there. The cockpit scenes focus on him monitoring his altitude as he dodges enemy defenses on his way to his target. I believe the last line of the story was, "The altimeter reached Redemption". As is often the case, I have no memory of author or title. May 6, 2021 at 16:22
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    I just read this story - it's online - because it was discussed here on scifi.se.com just a few weeks ago (maybe as much as 2 months)! There was a stalemate, and all the starship pilots/captains were going crazy, and earth was going broke, and they sent a psychologist (I think) out to figure things out ... and he "mutinied" and took over and just sent a "go" signal and the pilots did whatever the hell they wanted and the opposite computer just balked and so they won. Doesn't anyone remember seeing it here recently?
    – davidbak
    May 7, 2021 at 2:31
  • And here it is from February - "Fool's Mate" by Robert Sheckley - with a link to the story at the Internet Archive. (I had some of it wrong in the comment above: The "consultant from Earth" locked up the general, put a whacked out pilot in charge of the fleet, and issued the "go" command. The fleet movements were totally unpredictable (because: crazy guy in charge) and so the opposing computer balked.)
    – davidbak
    May 7, 2021 at 2:33

2 Answers 2


This resembles the plot of "The Feeling of Power", a short story by Isaac Asimov, first published in 1958. In the story, the Terrestrial Federation is at war with Deneb:

a war of computer against computer. Their computers forge an impenetrable shield of anti-missiles against our missiles, and ours forge one against theirs. If we advance the efficiency of our computers, so do they theirs, and for five years a precarious and profitless balance has existed.

In this society the skill of doing mathematics has been lost; computers do all computations. A minor technician, Myron Aub, rediscovers the ancient art of pencil-and-paper mathematics, which they term "graphitics". This has a possibility of revolutionising the war since as well as leap-frogging the Denebian development of computers,

a missile with a man or two inside... would be lighter, more mobile, more intelligent... A man is much more dispensable than a computer.

The story is available at the Internet Archive.

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    The description certainly matches—although it's odd that the central plot element of "The Feeling of Power" was not mentioned in the question. That just happens sometimes though.
    – Buzz
    May 6, 2021 at 2:38

This somewhat resembles:
What Price Humanity? by David VanDyke

The Earth is attacked by hostile living ships, called the Meme, that are only able to be countered by inserting human personalities into guided missiles. The story takes them through growing accustomed to their virtual existence as they live and train within a virtual barracks along with others and ultimately to battle.

I read it in There Will Be War volume X. It looks like it was one of the 2016 Hugo nominees.

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