I'm looking for the title and author of a short story about a small shop that sold only three things that I can remember.

One thing was a concert in a box with only a couple of buttons to select a choice of recording.

The next thing was power source designed to power a car that was a self-contained unit.

The other thing for the life of me I can not remember. The shop had strict instructions that the items were not to be tampered with in any way.

It was in a sci-fi anthology from the early '70-'80s, but could have been older.


1 Answer 1


"The Martian Shop", a novelette by Howard Fast which was also the answer to the old question Short story about a Martian invasion that starts with a mysterious set of stores in major cities; first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November 1959, available at the Internet Archive. You may have read it in one of these compilations.

It's not juse one but three shops, in New York, Paris, and Tokyo; and they offer not three but four items for sale, namely, clocks and adding machines, as well as the motors and music boxes that you remember:

The outboard motor was an object about the size of a small electric sewing machine, fabricated of some blue metal and weighing fourteen pounds, six ounces and a fraction. Two simple tension clips attached it to any boat or cart or car. It generated forty horsepower in jet propulsion, and it contained, almost microcosmically, its own atomic generator, guaranteed for one thousand continuous hours of operation. Through a muffling device, which has so far defied even theoretical solution, it produces less sound than an ordinary outboard motor. In each shop, this was explained, not as a muffling procedure, but as a matter of controlled pitch beyond the range of the human ear. Competent engineers felt that this explanation must be rejected.

In spite of the breathtaking implications of this atomic motor, it was the music box that excited the most attention and speculation. Of more or less the same dimensions as the adding machine, it was of pale yellow synthetic, the hieroglyphs pricked out in dark gray. Two slight depressions on the top of this box activated it, a slight touch of one depression to start it, a second touch on the same depression to stop it. The second depression, when touched, changed the category of the music desired. There were twenty-two categories of music available—symphonic music in three chronological sections, chamber music in three sections, piano solo, violin solo with and without accompaniment, folk music for seven cultures, operatic in three sections, orchestra, full cast and orchestra, that is the complete opera, and selected renderings, religious music, divided into five religious categories, popular songs in national sections, instrumental music in terms of eighty-two instruments, jazz in five categories and three categories of children's music.

The salespeople in each of the three shops claimed that the music box had a repertoire of eleven thousand and some odd separate musical selections, but this, of course, could not be put to the test, and varying opinions on this score have been expressed.

  • 5
    @Chris if correct, then tick it as the correct answer! Jan 9, 2023 at 10:48
  • 7
    Clearly in 1959 they could not have predicted the iPod Shuffle would only have one button and an odd wheel thing. Jan 9, 2023 at 13:10
  • 4
    @user253751 It's funny how mundane this device sounds by modern standards. That atomic motor is still far beyond our current technology, but the one that "excited the most attention and speculation" is basically in everyone's pocket now. 11,000 sounds like a ridiculously low number compared to the amount of music your phone can access if it's got an internet connection. Jan 9, 2023 at 15:55
  • 2
    11,000 is ridiculously low for a thumbnail-sized memory card. We truly live in the future. Jan 9, 2023 at 16:09
  • 2
    @Schwern: Computers the size of a coffee table are much more resilient to cosmic radiation (useful for your Moon base!) and much easier to repair than ones the size of a fingernail.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jan 9, 2023 at 23:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.