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In this story, there are several portals to other places (and possibly, as speculated by characters, times). I don't know if they 'just happened', or if there was a technology involved in opening them. I also don't recall if there were a permanent thing, or if they could be turned on and off. I think the portals led to:

  • a hot, steamy, jungle somewhere
  • a vista showing a pink sky
  • underwater (or possibly under methane) on some planet elsewhere
  • nowhere - this is the one I know exists, the others I only think I remember

'Nowhere' is based on the fact that all probes and test equipment pushed through that portal detected nothing: no matter, no signals, for as long as they were there, and as far as they could detect. Due to this, it is decided that through this portal is where a (potentially dangerous) test of a new generator will be conducted. The generator is an up-scaled version of one that is in reasonably common use, but is now being too small in capacity to supply needs.

While the testing is being set up, some of the observers are discussing philosophy, and one makes the assertion that whoever created the Universe did so with poor planning. The reason for given for this was that trees grow apples, but there are no trees which grow pizza. I may have the specifics wrong on this, but it was definitely some form of fruit, and some form of junk food in the argument.

Meanwhile, the test is set up with the new, large, generator, and a tug-boat like device to pull it into the portal to 'nowhere', and ignite the starter. Once done, the power levels follow the same path as the smaller generator, which makes the scientists happy. Once the generator reaches what should be steady-state (on the small version), it doesn't go steady-state, but instead power levels continue to increase, and do so at an increasing rate. This leads to a phenomenally large explosion of the generator and tug-boat, but due to the nature of the portals, does not cause any damage in the lab.

It's shortly after this that one of the observers remarks "I think I know what we did wrong."

"We made the trees grow apples instead of pizzas."

Form: short story

Target Audience: Adult readers of Sci-Fi stories (not a children's story)

Medium: Anthology (paperback). It could be single-author, or multiple-author.

When I read it: I am fairly certain I read this between 1990 and 1999, most likely after 1993. The story was almost certainly not new at the time.

Setting Location: Most action takes place in a laboratory, and is a discussion between scientists or observers waiting for results of a test

Protagonists: Several scientists and/or observers

Other thoughts: At that time I was reading a lot of Asimov, and was interested in reading almost any Sci-Fi I could get my hands on. I also read some of Brian Aldiss, and a few novels and anthologies of Clifford Simak. Having said that, it may still have been a different author altogether. I have gone through a large number of my Asimov anthologies, and haven't found it so far, but won't rule him out. I have looked through titles of Aldiss short stories, and nothing leaps out at me as this story. I haven't yet revisited many of the Simak shorts, but it doesn't really strike me as his style, though.

17

Nor the Many-Colored Fires of a Star Ring by George R. R. Martin. I read it in his collection Night Flyers and Other stories.

The portals are the eponymous Star Rings. The portal with nothing on the other side is called The Hole to Nowhere:

“I’m not. The discovery of the Hole to Nowhere twenty-odd years ago badly shook the space warp theory. If we simply jump to another portion of space when we go through a star ring, then where was Nowhere? The only feasible answer that’s been suggested is Whitfield’s Hypothesis. He said that Nowhere is beyond the expanding universe—at a spot in the space-time continuum so far from everything else that even the light of the Big Bang hasn’t reached it yet. The only problem with this is that it disagrees with the established belief that matter defines space. If Whitfield is correct, then either space can exist without matter—picture a pre-creation universe of infinite hard vacuum—or, alternatively, Nowhere never existed at all until the first probe ship came through the vortex and created it.”

The story ends:

The viewscreen was alive with the colors of the vortex. For an instant it almost seemed as if they were back in the monitoring room on the Nowhere Star Ring. Tongues of fire leaped up at them, and bluish demon shapes whipped by, shrieking. Then the ship shuddered, and there were stars again.

Jennifer smiled. “You look smug,” she told Kerin.

He put his arm around her. “We look smug. We have a right to be. We just beat that fucking darkness. There’s only one thing we did wrong.”

She blinked. “What?”

“We put apples on the trees, instead of pizza.”

1
  • I know I haven't read Nightflyers, but isfdb also has it in 'Faster Than Light', which sounds like something I would have read at the time. It's also possible that isfdb is incomplete, and I read it in another anthology. – enkorvaks 2 days ago

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