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I'm looking for the title of a short story, and hopefully the book which contained it, that I read in the mid- to late-nineties (unfortunately, I don't know how old the book and story themselves were). There's also the possibility that the story was printed in an issue of Asimov or Analog or some similar publication...which doesn't really help much.

I tried Googling for it, but the keywords that I can remember are all so generic that I'm flooded with inaccurate results (and sometimes--shudder--nonfiction).

Here's everything I do remember:

A brilliant, possibly insane, scientist has invented stable force-field technology. However, immediately after developing the theory which would allow such technology to be produced, he becomes fervently suicidal and must be kept under watch at all times.

He insists that his sudden suicidal tendencies must be due to a genetic trigger implanted by some ancient alien race to prevent humans from ever developing any technology which would make us a threat (the world of the story is like ours, with no evidence of alien life). He theorizes that this trigger is why no one has already invented the force field technology.

The story ends with

him successfully testing the forcefield prototype by detonating a bomb in front of an audience (the bomb is contained within the field). Everyone celebrates this scientific triumph, then notice that the inventor is missing. They find him in his office, having committed suicide while everyone was distracted.

I'd appreciate it if anyone can point me in the right direction...there are a bunch of short stories that I half remember which I believe are all from this same book/publication; I'm hoping that locating this one will allow me to find the others and re-read them as an adult.

  • Oh, bugger. I know this story. I'll have to look for it now. – JRE Jul 2 '15 at 12:02
  • The story is about humans being an experiment for some kind aliens. The aliens control the humans by causing humans to become suicidal if they do something the aliens don't like. The aliens control the whole world, adn are pushing humans towards a nuclear war. The force field would be able to stop a war, so the aliens don't want it. At least, all of that is what the scientist believes. At the end, it is implied that he might have been right since an engineer who worked on the project killed himself too. – JRE Jul 2 '15 at 12:07
  • Thanks for looking into it; when I type out these questions about story identification, I'm usually half-convinced that I hallucinated the whole thing. – Liesmith Jul 2 '15 at 12:08
  • @JRE Some of that sounds familiar, but I'm really hazy on what was true and what was just the scientist's hypothesis. – Liesmith Jul 2 '15 at 12:09
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Bingo. Got it. Breeds there a man, Asimov from 1951.
Has everything you mentioned.
And the story deliberately leaves it ambiguous about whether there are aliens or whether the scientist is just crazy - with a hint at the end that there may really be aliens.

Breeds there a man (pdf)

Was included in the 1969 collection "Nightfall and other stories"

Summary: The story is about humans being an experiment for some kind of aliens. The aliens control the humans by causing humans to become suicidal if they do something the aliens don't like. The aliens control the whole world, and are pushing humans towards a nuclear war. The force field would be able to stop a war, so the aliens don't want it. At least, all of that is what the scientist believes. At the end, it is implied that he might have been right since an engineer who worked on the project killed himself too.

  • Perfect! Thank you, that Wiki link also led to the book I read it from: Nightfall and Other Stories. – Liesmith Jul 2 '15 at 12:17
  • The ISFDB has a more comprehensive list of anthologies and collections containing that story. Your link to a pdf seems to be dead, but the story is available at the Internet Archive. – user14111 Apr 23 '17 at 23:08

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