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Help Finding a Sci Fi Short (possibly Heinlein)

  1. Oct 30, 2014 #1
    Greetz all
    I am trying to find a short story which I recall as being in a Heinlein collection but that may be wrong. The story revolves around 2 main characters - a scientist and an investigator- in some fictional future in which all scientific explorations and study is rigidly controlled by a government agency which even jails offenders of a very strict code of what areas are allowed for research.

    The Dr. (whose name I probably mistakenly recall as "Wu") is under investigation because he the Agency doesn't even understand what he is researching and seems to be in the relatively tame field of Optics. The investigator stalks the doctor and confirms that he is grinding a prism to extreme accuracy and at the same time trying to make a light generator that will produce a beam exactly one photon thick.

    At some point the investigator speaks with the doctor who tells him he is simply trying to cause a single photon to hesitate, to slow down, breaking the speed limit law of C.

    The investigator researches constants and one of the things he finds is that Pi was not always exact and he reasons that it should be since it is so easily derived. He finally concludes that reality is altered by the Laws we describe and that the doctor is trying to fundamentally alter reality.

    Does this ring any bells for anyone? I have googled a great deal and can't find this delicious little treat.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 30, 2014 #2


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    Hm ... I've read everything Heinlein ever wrote (I MAY have missed some of the early magazine stuff) but don't remember that one. Of course a lot of it I read starting about 55 years ago so MAYBE that's why I don't remember. Sorry I can't help. I love Heinlein. I just gave away my collection of about 1,500 sci-fic books, all earlier than the late 1980's else I'd poke around for you.
  4. Oct 30, 2014 #3
    Thank you for trying Phinds. One problem I have is although I'm sure it was a paperback collection of many short stories, I can't recall if Heinlein wrote them all, was just the star attraction, or these were simply a collection of some of his favorites. The title of the story was (remembered in a highly fuzzy fashion with not exact wording) The Amazing (though the original word used had a sinister ring) Doctor Wu (as I mentioned I am unsure of "Wu").

    I agree he was a brilliantly imaginative man that almost always pushed limits - Computers that become conscious, devices that travel through multiple, alternate dimensions, and on and on. Truly a classic on the level of Verne and Wells.
  5. Oct 30, 2014 #4


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    Yeah, I liked everything he did but I think he was truly a master of the short story. I had several collections of his short stories and several anthologies where he was one of the authors. I wonder if somewhere on the internet there might be a full list of all his writings?
  6. Oct 30, 2014 #5

    jim mcnamara

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  7. Oct 30, 2014 #6
    Might be this?



    Edit: This must be it. Has a prism and pi in it. Kudos on remembering the details.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2014
  8. Oct 30, 2014 #7


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    As far as I'm aware, yes. I was a huge sci-fic fan from about age 15 to early 20's and read voraciously, then slowed down a bit on sci-fic but continued reading it for another 30 years. Heinlein and Asimov were my early favorites, others came later. I did NOT read everything Asimov wrote (about 500 books as I recall) but Heinlein was more manageable.

    Actually, I think I read pretty much everything of any worth that was written in sci-fic up to the late 50's.
  9. Oct 30, 2014 #8
    Thank you, Jimmy. That is definitely it! My memory of much of the story is very good (I read it again just now) but I am perplexed as to why my memory of the title was so far off. It does appear that it was once included in a collection associated with Heinlein but that figures since his name was instant cashbox. I started reading SciFi in the 3rd grade which means I was around 6 (NY school system had me skip a grade) and commonly read some 50+ books each summer vacation and continued at a slightly slower pace through the school year.

    This story I read around age 8 and it rather dropped my jaw and disturbed me some little bit at the time. Suddenly the world seemed less solid. Then I found out it actually isn't, excepting practical purposes.

    Thanks for finding this. I had of course tried googling Heinlein bibliography and turned up nothing ringing bells. How did you find it?
  10. Oct 31, 2014 #9
    You're welcome. I just googled for sci-fi short story prism single photon etc, checked 3 or 4 different titles and got lucky. If you read it again, it'll be interesting to hear what you think of it the second time.
  11. Oct 31, 2014 #10
    @Jimmy - Well as I mentioned I first read it at 8 and since that was roughly half a century ago (sometimes very roughly) as you might imagine, what was profound then is just a pretty neat trick now, although still an interesting exercise in "skew a premise, see where it goes" so common in SciFi. I'm very glad you found it. It's gave me an uncommon and interesting perspective.
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