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I read this sometime in the 1990s; I don't recall if it was in an anthology or a magazine.

A guy has recently gone through a bad break-up, and desperately misses the good times that came before. He is introduced to a drug that allows him to completely re-experience his memories, as though he were actually present again for them. The catch is that the memories pass at an accelerated rate (e.g. 4 times as fast as the actually happened) and once he starts he can't wind back to an earlier time; the memories are retrieved strictly sequentially.

After some months of reliving his relationship he starts to relive the break-up, but for some reason he keeps going. He re-experiences his loss and desolation, and then he starts re-experiencing his relationship all over again, by reliving his memories of his previous replay.

In the present day he is in a darkened room with the shades drawn, and a shaft of light forms a shape that makes him think of a someone running across the wall.

The guy is now a complete addict and keeps taking the drug, experiencing shorter and shorter loops as he inevitably catches up to the present. The story highlights his last trip, as iterations last minutes, then just a minute, then seconds, as he repeatedly layers level after level of experience in shorter and shorter times...

The story essentially breaks off there, with the closing line being approximately "The runner persisted; there wasn't anything else it could do."

There was one notable aspect of the text layout for the story; within the drug experience, every time he ran through the loop his new thoughts would be shown added to his thoughts from previous iterations. Something like:

A thing happened
  He remembers how this made him feel
    He thinks about why he felt that way
      Why did that thing happen?
        Would things have been different if...

I may be conflating this with a different story, but it's possible that on subsequent visits to events he was able to observe more, and it changed his understanding and feelings of what happened. If on the first pass he remembered with glee putting someone down, by the third or fourth iteration he was realising how hurtful he had been.

I had thought the title might have been "The Runner" but a search on ISFDb doesn't find it.

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  • That's some scary thoughts
    – Clockwork
    Mar 20, 2023 at 19:23
  • Some similar themes in answers to scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/33950/…
    – FuzzyBoots
    Mar 20, 2023 at 20:14
  • @FuzzyBoots Somewhat similar theme, but too late, wrong length, wrong ending... Odd that "Confessions..." doesn't have an ISFDb entry.
    – DavidW
    Mar 20, 2023 at 20:20
  • Sounds like most people on a Thursday
    – Thomas
    Mar 24, 2023 at 14:16

1 Answer 1

25

This is David Brin's story A Stage of Memory. The title reflects the theme of memory - and the main character is a washed-up actor (hence the 'Stage'), who relives his glory days, and his eventual failure (as a younger actor takes his place when he's unable to perform on stage). He also relives hearing the news of the deaths of his parents in a terrorist attack and his breakup.

This quote matches your memory of the shadow:

The ripped window shade cast a jagged knife of daylight on faded Variety clippings taped to the opposite wall. The outline looked like the tapering gap between a pair of legs... the legs of a runner in mid-stretch, making time against the wall.

As you recall, the story does have memories of success and failure repeating faster and faster.

The last line of the story is

The runner persevered. There really wasn't anything else to do.

The story was in F&SF in 1986 and in Brin's collection The River of Time.

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  • 1
    This is definitely it. If I'd been closer on the closing line it gets multiple hits on IA... ah well. Thank you!
    – DavidW
    Mar 21, 2023 at 15:38
  • 1
    The story "For a Single Yesterday" by George R. R. Martin is similar enough, conceptually at least, that, had an answer not already been accepted, I would have tossed that out as a possibility. Mar 21, 2023 at 16:09

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