I've been trying to find out the name of a short story, any help will be appreciated:

  • Setting (I think) was World War II
  • There was a gunboat in the latter part of the story
  • The bomb is sentient, and can move around - it also looks like a rock.
  • The bomb cannot see water, so it looks like boats are flying.
  • It scans boats using radiation, trying to learn about them - which kills a bunch of the crew.
  • In turn they fire on the 'rock' - which prompts it to remember its purpose.
  • The story ends with the bomb saying something like "ah yes, that's what I was supposed to do" and detonating.

The story turns up in a bunch of anthologies, I just don't have them anymore to check - and google results are swamped by the World War II references.

Many thanks.

  • 2
    There is a very similar part in John Carpenter's Dark Star. Feb 3 '13 at 10:15
  • 1
    Anyone else has to think of a bomb with GLaDOS' voice and personality? In the shape of a rocky potato? :)
    – Mario
    Feb 3 '13 at 11:19
  • 1
    @Mario Actually, I remember the story and the bomb isn't malevolent -- just amnesiac and curious. It doesn't even notice the humans it's killing because it was deployed against a silicon-based species that was wiped out in a mutually destructive war millions of years before and organic life didn't exist yet.
    – Shadur
    Mar 29 '14 at 11:58

The story is "Dormant" by A. E. Van Vogt.

This dramatic tale of the harrowing results of the discovery of a huge and very strange alien object on a remote Pacific island in the immediate post-WW2 years, told in typical and most effective van-Vogt-style from the “other’s” point of view, was first published in the November 1948 issue of Startling Stories, whose snappy cover here has surely not escaped your attention.

I found it in a collection called Destination Universe.

An excerpt from the story:

As the plant drew closer he sent cautious thoughts towards it. Several planes, to which he had directed his thought waves, had twisted jerkily in mid-air and tumbled down out of control.
This one did not deviate from its course. When it was almost directly overhead a large object dropped from it, turned lazily over and over as it curved towards Iilah. It was set to explode about a hundred feet above the target. The timing was perfect, the explosion titanic.
As soon as the blurring effects of so much new energy had passed, the now fully alive Iilah thought in a quiet though rather startled comprehension, "Why, of course, that’s what I was trying to remember. That’s what I was supposed to do."

  • Fantastic, that's exactly what I was looking for - it was just... Dormant... In my memory. Thanks!
    – user12353
    Feb 3 '13 at 17:22
  • :-) I've spent all day searching my bookshelf for that flipping story! Feb 3 '13 at 18:45
  • Quite right -- I remember the story vividly, but I couldn't place the author and title.
    – Mike Scott
    Feb 3 '13 at 19:54

From the Wikipedia page for Dark Star, well known for featuring a plotline with "smart bombs" that prematurely decide to explode:

Commentators have noted that the film's ending closely parallels the short story "Kaleidoscope" by Ray Bradbury, from his 1951 short story collection The Illustrated Man.

  • I'm sure the story is neither Dark Star nor Kaleidoscope. I have read the story in the past but I can't remember the title or author. As I recall the bomb is left over from an alien war and is millions (billions?) of years old. It is woken by radioactive fallout from the tests at Bikini atoll. I remember that the bomb can't perceive water and is puzzled about the boats apparently flying. Feb 3 '13 at 15:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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