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Years ago, I remember reading a short story (as I remember it) about a couple whose prized possession is semi-living crystal structure that is sensitive to their relationship; it grows and maintains its beauty as a reflection of how good their relationship is. Because they are so invested in their crystal, they act happy and content while secretly loathing each other... effectively, slaves to the crystal by choice.

I probably have a couple of the details wrong. I believe I read this in the late 90's or early 00's.

I'd really like to track this down. It predates Facebook (or social media in general) but feels like a great metaphor for couples that maintain an outwardly happy face.

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    A lot of the details are different, but this strongly reminds me of Gemstone by Vernor Vinge. It has a sinister kind of feel to it and a semi-sentient gemstone that is the center of a relationship in it, but the things about them acting content aren't there.
    – Paul
    Jul 29, 2015 at 22:45
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    It's been so long, thus this question in the first place. As I remember it, the crystal picked up on subtle physical cues, and the whole point was that the societal-imposed conformity was enough to fake the crystal. Aug 12, 2015 at 17:13
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    There's a somewhat similar idea in one of the stories in J.G. Ballards "Vermillion Sands", where the "recordings" of a prior couple who owned a house starts to psychically impinge on the new occupants; forcing them into the same negative roles. But they can't delete the recordings, since much of the value of the house is tied up in them. Aug 12, 2015 at 17:15
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    Come on guys. The erudite and literary Sci-Fi.SE community can figure this one out. Feb 7, 2017 at 11:28
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    Somebody else apparently looking for the same story: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/189991/…
    – user14111
    Jun 23, 2018 at 5:05

2 Answers 2

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+1000

This is "The Synergy Sculpture" (1978) by Terrence L. Brown. It was original to Orbit 20 and never reprinted.

a couple whose prized possession is semi-living crystal structure that is sensitive to their relationship

'The Synergy Sculpture is not a toy. It is a sensitive scientific instrument designed to aid couples and groups in becoming more aware of their emotional interactions. The Synergy Sculpture measures emotional interactions among the two to ten people to whom the unit is tuned—not individual emotional states. It has been used successfully by hundreds of psychotherapists throughout the world as a monitor of the growth of couples and groups toward emotionally mature relationships!'

it grows and maintains its beauty as a reflection of how good their relationship is.

“Right,” said Mary enthusiastically. “And the better the vibes between us, the more complex, colorful, and beautiful it gets.”

Because they are so invested in their crystal, they act happy and content while secretly loathing each other... effectively, slaves to the crystal by choice.

“It’s so sensitive,” John said. “We destroyed it with our argument.” He turned to Mary. “I’m sorry, honey. I should have thought before I snapped at you.”

“It’s okay, I understand.”

and

“Let’s make love,” he whispered. He kissed her neck.

“I’m tired,” she said, turning away.

“Come on, think what it’ll do to the sculpture.”

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    well done! I'd vote more than once if I could. This is one of those unanswered questions that has always bugged me lol
    – NKCampbell
    Mar 8 at 16:47
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    @NKCampbell It bugged me too. I owe an immense debt to James Davis Nicoll's review of Orbit 20; I'd never read the story before his review. Mar 8 at 16:48
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    Congrats! This was a unicorn question. Mar 8 at 23:07
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    @Clockwork - Not even close, but certainly one of the most highly upvoted without an accepted answer
    – Valorum
    Mar 9 at 18:32
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    Outstanding! I've been bugged by this for years and honestly had gotten to the point where I thought I had made up the idea and only thought I had read it in a story. I must have read the story around 2002 or 3, but was struck around 2009 or so by a friend's marriage breaking up, and the disparity between the strife and bitterness I knew was going on privately, and the kind of lovey-dovey things they were still both posting to Facebook. Mar 10 at 19:55
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I didn't realize I had a certain fame! I am the author of "The Synergy Sculpture". Back in the 1970s I attempted to be a professional writer. This was my only sale, although I came very close on a number of other stories to markets like Analog, New Dimensions (anthology series edited by Robert Silverberg), and some individual anthologies like Thanatos, edited by Scott Edelstein. I wrote a lot in the evenings back then, after my day job as a psychotherapist in a community mental health clinic. That work was obviously the genesis of the story.

Fun to see that the story still has a little life!

If there are any out there who want to read the story, but can't find Orbit 20 I would be happy to provide a digital copy. Not sure how that would best be handled through this forum, though.

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    I, for one, greatly enjoyed the story. I first learned of it here, then when James Nicoll reviewed Orbit 20 I realized it had been found. Mar 29 at 14:12
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    Not sure how that would best be handled through this forum, though. Generally you exchange email addresses either through a chat room or by putting your address on your profile page, then conduct whatever business you have over email. Mar 29 at 14:15

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