I was about to leave a comment on this question as it reminded me of this story, and was thinking that the story I was remembering was in Orson Scott Card's Maps In A Mirror anthology. So I grabbed it off the shelf to find the name of the story and.... I was wrong, it's not in there. So now I want to try to figure out what story I'm thinking of.

The short story I am thinking of starts with a middle aged or possibly elderly woman who lives in a room (I want to say it was hexagonal but I could be wrong) whose needs are all supplied by some kind of computer or machine. She sits in a chair and communicates long distance with anyone she wants to talk to, and so on, never leaving her room for years(?) before the beginning of the story. I had the impression the room was very grey and bland, but that could be just how I imagined it, rather than a description in the text.

After setting up this situation, the story goes on to the woman receiving communication from someone important to her - her son, maybe? - requesting that she actually physically come visit. After some arguing and debate she finally decides to go through with it, and then the story describes her trip to the transit station and bewilderment at the outside world, and a flight on an automated, flying bus or train sort of thing (high speed, long distance mass transit). I don't remember the ending after this. She traveled alone although may have encountered other travelers on the trip. I believe it was set on Earth, but an Earth in which very few people leave their machine-supplied rooms.

If I didn't read it this past summer in Maps In a Mirror, I probably read it in a short story collection borrowed from a library a few years ago around 2019 or so (although now I'm wondering if I might have read it online somewhere in the same time frame), but I'm positive it is much older than this. I would guess it was written no later than the 90s and possibly even decades earlier, but probably more recently than 50s/60s given the tone and style, etc. It was in English and I don't remember any indication that it had been translated from another language, but I don't often pay attention to preface details like that so I can't say for sure.

Part of my brain wants to say it was by Stanislaw Lem, but I suspect that may just be because it's the only author name I remember from my 2019 science fiction binge (I know I read Solaris during that time).


1 Answer 1


"The Machine Stops", E.M. Forster (1909).

The Machine Stops is a short science fiction story. It describes a world in which almost all humans have lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual lives in isolation in a 'cell', with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. Most humans welcome this development, as they are skeptical and fearful of first-hand experience. People forget that humans created the Machine, and treat it as a mystical entity whose needs supersede their own. Those who do not accept the deity of the Machine are viewed as 'unmechanical' and are threatened with "Homelessness". Eventually, the Machine apocalyptically collapses, and the civilization of the Machine comes to an end

The story starts in the hexagonal room you remember:

Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk--that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh--a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

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    Can you describe why this answer matches?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 18:37
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    The story uses a "hidden protagonist" structure where the main point of view character is a woman who is the mother of the true protagonist. Forster moves her around to show you the world as it has developed in his dystopic vision, and one way he moves her around is by having her take a long journey by "air ship" from (probably) New Zealand to England to visit her son. She argues with her son about taking this trip before she takes it. It really matches OP's description beat for beat - his recollection just runs out about 1/3 of the way through the story.
    – tbrookside
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 19:18
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    Yeah, the answer was very low on details but I just read the linked story and it matches exactly up to the point where memory failed me. The edits other users made make it a reasonably complete answer. Ironic that a question that said it was definitely not this story reminded me of it, but I didn't recognize the title. ;) Also very impressive that it was written in 1909!! Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 19:40
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    That's fair, I should have provided more details. Sorry! Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 20:19

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