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by Fredric Brown

Preface by David Drake

Fredric Brown's fiction has many virtues. The one that most impressed me when I was first trying to write was that he was the master of the short-short story, the vignette. It is remarkably difficult to tell a real story in 300-500 words. Others have done it—Arthur C. Clarke has done it very successfully—but no one I can think of did it more often and more consistently well than Brown.

This is an example. It looks as though it should be easy to duplicate it.

But you just try. Heaven knows, I have . . . and I failed every time.




Dwar Ev ceremoniously soldered the final connection with gold. The eyes of a dozen television cameras watched him and the sub-ether bore through the universe a dozen pictures of what he was doing.

He straightened and nodded to Dwar Reyn, then moved to a position beside the switch that would complete the contact when he threw it. The switch that would connect, all at once, all of the monster computing machines of all the populated planets in the universe—ninety-six billion planets—into the supercircuit that would connect them all into one supercalculator, one cybernetics machine that would combine all the knowledge of all the galaxies.

Dwar Reyn spoke briefly to the watching and listening trillions. Then after a moment's silence he said, "Now, Dwar Ev."

Dwar Ev threw the switch. There was a mighty hum, the surge of power from ninety-six billion planets. Lights flashed and quieted along the miles-long panel.

Dwar Ev stepped back and drew a deep breath. "The honor of asking the first question is yours, Dwar Reyn."

"Thank you," said Dwar Reyn. "It shall be a question which no single cybernetics machine has been able to answer."

He turned to face the machine. "Is there a God?"

The mighty voice answered without hesitation, without the clicking of a single relay.

"Yes, now there is a God."

Sudden fear flashed on the face of Dwar Ev. He leaped to grab the switch.

A bolt of lightning from the cloudless sky struck him down and fused the switch shut.




Afterword by Jim Baen

I read "Answer" some years after I'd read "The Last Question." My first thought was, "It's the same story!"

But it wasn't the same story. It wasn't anything like the same story. It just happened to have the same plot.

That realization made me much less concerned by "originality," because I began to see that nothing was really original, and I became much more concerned about story values. Over the years I've built three SF lines on that principle.


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