Paperback, Golden age science fiction.

In this story, long-term sleep is fully developed and an integral part of society. The more important or wealthier a person is, the longer they can afford to sleep at a time. This created a world of stability with world leaders spending as much as a decade asleep per day awake. All the way down to the lowest level people who merely could live day to day.

The protagonist of this story is a day-to-day person who gets involved in the long game. A civilization game where players take on the role of world leaders. By this game, he lifts himself out of the slums and into the elites of society.

Spoiler Version (Long, because I can type most of it from memory):

The protagonist is living at the low end of society along with his best friend, an aspiring painter. The chapter opens with them visiting an arcade and seeing the long game being played at one of the consoles.


To describe the game: The games are played at different time-rates, with the cheapest games running as much as a century per day, up to the elite games where time ran at real-time. One day in game is to one day in real-life. The closer to real-time the game ran, the higher the cost to purchase a seat at the game. Those playing the real-time game enjoyed celebrity status and long sleep times of a year asleep per day awake. The game rules however, prohibited holding a seat at the long game while the player slept so there was a stewardship system in place where the owner of a country in the game would pass on his role to another player for a high fee, then re-purchase it when he next re-awakened.


Initially, the protagonist could only afford the shortest game, but he won it easily and attracted sponsorship to enter the longer games. The sponsorship came with the right to sleep every-other day for two people and he invited his friend along. But, his friend declined saying each-day should be lived as is. So they went their separate ways. The protagonist continued to win and gained more sponsorships moving to higher levels and longer sleep times. For the first few months, he always set aside time to meet with his friend. But, as time progressed, his friend aged and he did not to his friend, they were meeting once every couple of weeks, but to him it was every day. Finally, they agreed to stop meeting and parted ways. In the final meeting, the painter chided him saying that this current system of stability was not good for society. Gone was ambition and change when the world leaders never changed. People were afraid of change with the concern that when they next awoke things would be too different and thus whenever choices in things such as running companies or the next great project, the safest, most stable option was always chosen. During his awake cycles, the protagonist watched as his friend grew to be a famous painter married, and died.


On his next cycle, he stopped to visit an antiquities store and saw a painting drawn by his friend and lambasted the shopkeeper for allowing the painting to be in such poor condition. In turn, the shopkeeper replied: “Don't you know? This is a painting by the late <…> over a century ago. It is in excellent condition for it's age!” Chagrined, the protagonist bought the painting and had it stored as best as he could. But, even so, after only a few more cycles the painting turned to dust.


Finally, the protagonist obtained sufficient savings to buy a seat at the long game. At this time, the long game he chose was unusually cheap. It had only two countries: Neuber’s Italy and another. Italy in this world had grown to cover most of the world and it's citizens loved the country. People were talking about how dull this game was and knew that the signing of the treaty to unite the last country in the world under Italy was merely waiting for Neuber's next turn when he would awaken. The protagonist bought the right to play as Italy. But, unlike his other games, he played strangely. He started lavishing favor and gifts on one area, while making laws stricter in a nearby area causing minor unrest at the favoritism. The protagonists way of solving the unrest was almost slipshod, sometimes he would turn and heavily bribe the area with a sudden income, other times he would crack-down on it hard with overwhelming force. Slowly, the real-world started to notice this long game again. The player running Italy was bungling it as never had been seen before and the levels of unrest increased.


Then, Neuber awoke. To his servant he stated: “Do the usual, go find out who has Italy and buy them out with the usual contact.” Only to be told, “He won't sell.” Neuber looks over the long game and sees an unprecedented amount of unrest, but nothing that can't be handled and increases his offer. Still won't be sold. Neuber is begging the protagonist please, sell the right to Italy, I'll offer you whatever I own. Still no sale. Shortly later, a spark of unrest starts that is not put down. It grows and in the space of a single week, the whole world revolts against Italy and when it's all finished, dozens of countries cover the map and not a single one of them remains calling itself “Italy.”


“Why did you do this? One more turn, and I would have achieved perfection!” “Precisely because if you had taken that last turn, you would have achieved stasis. The world must continue to change, to evolve in order to develop.” Re-echoing the painter's words from centuries hence. “This was practice.”


The story ends there, and several further stories were the same book. Dealing with long sleep and the trend in the stories is one of increasing unrest against the sleep system itself. And in the final story, an end to the long sleep.


1 Answer 1


That's "Breaking The Game" by Orson Scott Card, collected in Capitol and The Worthing Saga.

Herman Nuber has just woken up from a state of suspended animation brought on by the fictional drug Somec and is looking forward to returning to his virtual world conquest game. Unfortunately for him his position is being played by someone else and that person doesn't want to sell it for any price. When he discovers how poorly the person is playing he gets desperate and arranged to meet the other player.

It's not really Golden Age; it was first published in 1979, thirty years after the Golden Age.

  • 2
    I was coming here to type this. It is also published in The Worthing Chronicle, which is basically just the Saga with some extra editing done at Card's request to make Card some more money, uh, I mean, make the story flow better. This is more than just that one short-story though; I think it's The Worthing Saga as a whole, not just an individual short-story from it. Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 10:31
  • That's it. I've been hunting for this story for 17years now with occasional variations in search terms. THANKS! And I thought it was golden age as at the time, I was reading mostly books from the 50s-70s.
    – DKATyler
    Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 15:12

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