I read this when I was in Jr. High (on the bus to school IIRC) so the story couldn't be any newer than 1982. Again, IIRC it was in a science fiction short story collection.

It's told from the first-person viewpoint about a group of soldiers fighting alien "snails". These creatures were telepathic and had the ability to induce what the humans called "snail fever" which was described as falling down a well (vertigo) forever. As I recall the story does not end well

The story may, or may not, have been also collected with the (in)famous Harlan Ellison story "I have no mouth and I must scream", but I cannot be certain of this.

Sorry for the indistinct memory and details; my memory is failing me and everything is suspect.

  • Perhaps it's in the collection "Schistosomiasis Plus" :) May 31, 2022 at 2:00

1 Answer 1


I believe this is "Time Piece" (1970) by Joe Haldeman.

The protagonist is a 21st century human who has been fighting for subjective years and many times that in Earth years. He and his 3-man team land on a planet termed "Anomaly" to investigate a colony of the enemy.

The presence of the enemy causes a mental imbalance they term "snail-fever:"

Then my mind started coming back into focus and I could analyze the sinking, spinning sensation — not free-fall vertigo at all but what we used to call snail-fever. The enemy was very near. Crackling combat sounds drifted in from outdoors.

They were trying to do a quiet insertion and reconnaissance, but get discovered by the enemy; the others are killed, but the protagonist, Francisco, escapes after losing his left hand.

After a medical extraction, the rest of the story has him sitting in an ersatz 21st century bar, 400 years in the future, thinking about the war.

As you recall, the story has a downbeat ending:

And I've been thinking about that night for six years, or two hundred, and I think that N'gai — his soul find Buddha — was wrong. The game isn't all that complex.

Because in O'wari, either person can win.

The snails populate ten planets for every one we destroy.

Solitaire, anyone?

  • Thank you so very much, it's been driving me crazy for a long time, you are awesome! May 31, 2022 at 8:12
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    Haldemann eventually took the ideas from Time Piece and wrote a full length novel - The Forever War. The names and places all changed, as did the characters, but the core concept (an interstellar war extended through centuries by long travel times and time dilation) remained. It also took on some extended concepts. The short story was good, the novel is better though greatly different.
    – JRE
    May 31, 2022 at 13:18
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    @BurntToast please accept the answer by clicking the gray checkmark. Jun 1, 2022 at 2:00

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