9

I read this story in the 1980s, but it may have been written prior to that. It was part of a collection of stories by the same author. In this story, a woman experiments with changing animals from one species to another, instantly. Her husband comes home after a long mission--the wife resents he is often gone for long periods. But just about the time they start to get along again, he is off on another mission. This time he goes to a distant planet where there is something called "the cliff" (I think). It forces him to crawl along towards it and turns out to be intelligent. Once his mission is complete, he returns home. At the very end, his wife pushes him off a cliff and into the sea below where he turns into a seal.

There was a another story in the same collection about a museum in which holographic images of people talked to each other. But they were slowly going more and more out of sync, as if their batteries were wearing down at not quite the same rate. The person seeing this had also observed that humans voices were becoming quieter and quieter, and speculated that we were all just holograms that were wearing down.

6

The second story might be Brian Aldiss's 1976 short story "Appearance of Life" (it is sometimes anthologized as "Talking Heads").

The story is told by a Seeker, a descendant of humanity, who has come to the planet Norma where a huge, seemingly abandoned alien structure is used as a museum of human artifacts. There, the Seeker discovers two holographic cubes from two different space ships which belonged to a married couple seperated by an intergalactic war, and which were programmed only to respond to the other person's face. The Seeker sets the cubes next to each other and lets them play out their story - it soon become clear that while the woman is expressing her undying love for her husband, he is admitting to an affair. The Seeker has a revelation that humanity itself is an artwork created by aliens, and no more free-willed than the holograms.

  • Thank you very much! Mystery solved after 30 years! – Pat Oct 24 '15 at 14:23
6

The first story is "A Kind of Artistry", a novelette by Brian W. Aldiss, first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1962, available at the Internet Archive.

This time he goes to a distant planet where there is something called "the cliff" (I think).

The Cliff had destroyed each of the few spaceships or lightpushers that had landed on the desolate globe. After long study of the being from safe orbits, the wise men of Star One evolved the theory that it destroyed any considerable source of power, as a man will swat a buzzing fly. Derek Ende, going alone with no powering but his suit motors, would be safe—or so the theory went.

It forces him to crawl along towards it

Nothing he could do checked his progress; he was no longer master of his movements; his will was useless. With the realisation rode a sense of relief. His Mistress could hardly blame him for anything that happened now.

Through the darkness he went on hands and knees, blundering in the direction of the on-coming Cliff, prisoner in an animated prison.

and turns out to be intelligent.

In a half daze, he was piecing together what had happened.

The Cliff had communicated with him; if he ever doubted that, the evidence of it lay in the crook of his left hand.

"Yet it did not—yet it could not communicate with me!" he murmured. But it had communicated: he was still faint with the burden of it.

Once his mission is complete, he returns home. At the very end, his wife pushes him off a cliff and into the sea below where he turns into a seal.

With the words, with the look of her, he too was altered. As if realising for the first time her true nature, he dropped his fists and stepped back, staring at her sick-mouthed. His heel met no resistance. He twisted suddenly, spread out his arms as if to fly, and fell over the cliff edge.

Her scream pursued him down.

Even as his body hit the waters of the fjord, it began to change. A flurry of foam marked some sort of painful struggle beneath the surface. Then a seal plunged into view, dived below the next wave, and swam towards open sea over which a freshening breeze blew.

  • Thank you very much! Mystery solved after 30 years! – Pat Oct 24 '15 at 14:23

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