Friday, June 27, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke's "Playback" (short story, science fiction): Reincarnation not possible with a corrupt mind dump

Quote from short story titled Playback by Arthur C ClarkeThis is not the first mind dump story I've read of Clarke - there's much better known novel "The City and the Stars". "Patent Pending" has a device that lets specific experiences of one individual to be recorded to a storage device & played back directly into the mind of someone else! Even "The Lion of Comarre" has a variation of this.

But this is the first exclusively mind dump story I've seen from Clarke that has a modern feel. Ignore a single reference to tape as a storage device & a space-based theme, & this 1966 story can be confused with a 2007 or a 2008 story! And it's among the best mind dump stories I've seen.

There is a part of the story that has the terror like in Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream". But there is no sadistic external entity doing the torturing here; it's a natural part of the story.

Story summary.

40 year old William Vincent Neuberg, "a master pilot of the Galactic Survey... born in Port Lowell, Mars, on August 21, 2095", had an accident somewhere in deep space. His ship blown away, vaporizing him along with it. We don't know if there were any other crew or passengers.

But some aliens, obviously far off from the location of accident, did his mind dump during these last moments. They were competent enough to have created his body & complete with its memories from this dump, only they have no idea of what kind of body he had; nothing from the body was saved.

Story is narrated by a simulation ("playback") of William's mind dump record. He is initially trying to feel his body parts, panicky when cannot find, ... eventually realizing he's just a simulation!

He begins communicating with the aliens via the playback machine's interface, describing what his body looked like so they can reincarnate him. Only it's an incomplete recording - something vital seems to have been missed when they made the record - his memory is confused, fading...

Collected in.

  1. "The Collected Stories of Arthur C Clarke"
  2. Arthur Clarke's "More Than One Universe"
  3. Arthur Clarke's "The Wind From the Sun"

Fact sheet.

First published: Playboy, December 1966.
Rating: A