The Feeling of Power, a Short Story by Isaac Asimov

You can read Isaac Asimov’s short story, The Feeling of Power, here.

What one man considers forward, another may consider backward.

When stated like that, the premise of Asimov’s The Feeling of Power, seems rather simple. And yet The Feeling of Power is anything but. In classic Asimov fashion, the story touches on big ideas, ideas already familiar to most people, but presents them in a way that exposes aspects we may have overlooked.

The story takes place in what they call New Pentagon during an unspecified time in the far off future. Humans have achieved a level of technology that makes much of what we today consider necessary, completely obsolete. This is, as said before, not a revolutionary idea. It is what Asimov does with the idea that is so fascinating.

Computers have become so powerful and ubiquitous, for example, that humans have lost the ability to do basic math. Arithmetic has all but become a lost art. That is, until the events of the story.

Jehan Shuman, a computer expert of the highest degree, introduces select members of the U.S. military and congress to a lowly technician by the name of Myron Aub. This man, Shuman claims, has made a revolutionary discovery. He sets Aub up to stand in front of these highly dignified men and show them his groundbreaking findings. He proceeds to multiply numbers on a piece of paper.

The reaction is nothing short of hilarious. These esteemed generals and politicians are dumbfounded, but also skeptical. But as Aub continues to perform miracles (simple arithmetic) with his pen and paper and they compare his answers to the calculations of their computers, they are completely blown away.

They speak excitedly about the possibilities, of teaching everyone how to perform these simple functions, of weaning the country off its dependence on computers, of going, as we would see it, backwards. And considering the perspective of the characters, is it not true that these developments would not be backward, but rather forward?

Asimov begins the story with this sort of lighthearted, humorous scenario, but abruptly reminds us that the story is in fact taking place in New Pentagon. The conversation immediately turns to arithmetic’s applications in war, of how much money they could save by relying so heavily on computers in their war efforts. They even speak of manning missiles with living men who would replace the computers and personally guide the missiles to their targets themselves.

After all, while computers are costly, humans are expendable.

After the conversation takes this dark turn, Aub realizes what he’s done, and he kills himself. Regardless, no one cares very much and they press forward.

Asimov very artfully pulled off the same technique I saw Ursula Le Guin use in The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas: contrast in tone. Asimov prefaced his intended tone with the polar opposite and allowed it to carry on long enough for the reader to grow comfortable. And then he pivots, hitting the reader with the story’s true colors. The effect as I see it is that the story’s theme and tone becomes amplified.

There’s more to it than that, though. It’s not just a matter of swapping tones. The final tone has to make sense. While it is important that it is shocking, it is even more important that the reader can go back however many pages and see the clues that explain it before it happens. Thus, when the reader gets to the intended tone of the story they can see that it isn’t new – it was always there, had they been reading carefully enough.

While it feels almost criminal to assign any story a score, I will do so just to give it a place among all the other stories I have and will read. I give The Feeling of Power by Isaac Asimov 8.5/10. It’s a short story I would recommend to everyone, friend or foe.

Death and What Comes Next by Terry Pratchett

Death and What Comes Next (you can find it here) is a short story in his Discworld series. To give you some context, Pratchett wrote this story in 2002 for an online puzzle came called TimeHunt. And apparently (according to Wikipedia, at least) there’s some sort of word puzzle hidden in the text of the story that provides a code word for the game. I’m not familiar with the game myself, but alas, it’s gone. As intrigued as I am, it looks like I’ll never know this code word.

Regardless, Death and What Comes Next stands on its own as an amusing, clever story. It takes place somewhere near the brink of a man’s death. The man, as it happens, is a philosopher, and when Death himself shows up, the man naturally attempts to talk his way out of dying.

Much to Death’s annoyance (he’s been through this before), the man gives an impressively concise explanation of quantum theory, triggering a back-and-forth that had me grinning the entire time.

For such a short short story, it’s impressive how likable its characters are. Granted, there are only two. It’s a shame Death and the philosopher couldn’t have met under different circumstances. Their banter is hilarious.

Here’s a bit that forced a particularly hard exhalation from my nose.


Fighting for breath, the philosopher managed to say: “Don’t be silly.”


I haven’t read much of Pratchett’s work, but now I’m wishing I had. I know I’ll be reading a lot more of his stories in the days to come. I’m giving this one a 7/10. It’s a good one, and if you’ve got five minutes to spare (seriously, it’s short), I highly recommend it.

For my own purposes, I’d like to continue writing about specific things I can take away from what I read. Techniques, pretty phrases, lessons learned… things of that nature. Sometimes, though, nothing particularly pops out. And that’s not to say that whatever I’ve read is worse off because of it. It’s one of those “It’s not you, it’s me” scenarios.

So, when I can, I’ll do more than simply review what I read and include a more thorough write-up on that aspect of my reading experience. Both for myself as a writer with lots of room to grow and for anyone else with an interest in developing their craft.

In the past few days, I haven’t written on this as much as I would have liked, and I think that’s inevitable. I’m not some fortune cookie dispenser finding wisdom behind every word. And I think that’s fine. I don’t want to force myself. After all, I’m out of school (and thank god for that), and doing so would only make it feel like I have homework again.

All that being said, I do have one lesson learned from my reading of Death and What Comes Next. This story, comprised entirely of dialogue, reminded me of how, well, underwhelming my dialogue often is. Scratch that. This story slapped me in the face with that fact with its every word. By the end of it, I was practically in tears screaming, “WHY CAN’T I WRITE DIALOGUE LIKE THIS?”

Of course, if shouting was the way to get the answers we needed, it would be a lot harder to concentrate. And while I didn’t get one, I did have an interesting thought that I’ll be testing out myself. From now on, whenever I write a significant exchange between characters, I’m going to ask myself this:

If I cut out everything but the dialogue, could I make a short story out of what remains?

And while I think it may be unrealistic to expect that yes, every exchange between characters can stand on its own as a story, I do believe that making this a habit will help me catch the particularly boring conversations.

Next Door by Kurt Vonnegut

A purple emotion flooded Paul’s being. Childhood dropped away, and he hung, dizzy, on the brink of life, rich, violent, rewarding.

Next Door is a short story in Kurt Vonnegut’s anthology, Welcome to the Monkey House. And it reminds me why I love reading Vonnegut so much.

My favorite thing about Vonnegut is how free of pretension his writing is. His stories are just so accessible, not only in content but in language as well. You’d be hard pressed to find a confusing Vonnegut story.

And that’s not to say that his stories are simple. His plots are interesting, and there’s usually a lot to unpack. Unlike a lot of authors, though, he doesn’t wall that content off with big words and convoluted sentences.

Next Door is another example of this. It’s a story about a duplex. On one side live the Leonards and on the other, the Hargers. Between them is a wall. A very thin one. The reader enters the story as Mr. and Mrs. Leonard argue in hushed voices over whether or not their son Paul is old enough to be left home alone while they go to the cinema. In classic dad fashion, Mr. Leonard insists that she’s smothering him while Mrs. Leonard, in classic mom fashion, insists that her smothering is perfectly justified.

Mr. Leonard wins out, leaving Paul to his own devices for the night. From then on, it’s just Paul, the wall, the Hargers, and an unexpected plus one. I’ll leave you to figure out the details yourself.

This is a quick read that’ll have you beaming from beginning to end. I would absolutely recommend it. And I’m going to do something I haven’t done before. I’m going to start scoring the stories I read, just to give you all a better sense of how much I like what I read.

I’ll be giving Next Door 7.5/10. Now go read it!