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The Crystal Spheres by David Brin

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“The Crystal Spheres” is a 1984 science fiction short story by David Brin. It is about a man who travels to a distant star system after learning that the inhabitants there have broken out of their crystal shell.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

A cometIn a far distant future where mankind has learned that unbreakable crystal spheres surround each star system in the galaxy, Joshua is awakened from his deep cryogenic sleep only to learn about a very exciting discovery. Now, centuries after humans first broke through the shell surrounding their own system, another star system has been discovered with a broken – and therefore penetrable – crystal sphere. Joshua and several other deep space explorers are called upon to lead a ship full of scientists and cryogenically frozen humans to investigate. Upon arrival they begin a cautious exploration of the broken sphere, the engineered planets inside it and the abandoned alien cities. That is until they find information about something even more amazing than the crystal spheres!

“Alice,” I breathed after a long moment. “Is it true at last?”

She came forward and took my hand. She must have known how weak and tense I felt.

“Yes, Joshua. One of the probes has found another cracked shell.”

“There is no mistake? It’s a goodstar?”

She shook her head, saying yes with her eyes.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • The idea of the crystal spheres is totally unique! This made for fun reading, left me pondering the implications of such spheres, and made me think more deeply about why we haven’t already encountered alien conquerors.
  • David Brin is a great writer, and it is easy to see why “The Crystal Spheres” won the Hugo award. Not only does it contain an absolutely amazing idea, but the writing is excellent with great descriptions of events and places.
  • A sure sign of a great story (for me anyway) is when I really, really wish I could take part in the things I am reading about. That’s what happened when I read about the explorations of the Nataral civilization – how cool would it be to experience something like that? Aah – I can only dream… and read more science fiction stories!

• The bad:

  • Honestly, the only downfall of this story was the fact that I wanted it to continue! I yearned to learn more about the crystal spheres and the Nataral. Sigh.

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 15
• Word Count: 6,754
“The Crystal Spheres” garnered the following awards:

  • It won the 1985 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.
  • It placed 2nd in the 1985 Locus Poll.
  • It also won the 1985 AnLab award.

Where you can find “The Crystal Spheres”:

  • This short story first appeared in the January 1984 issue of Analog.
  • “The Crystal Spheres” is included in David Brin’s book River of Time .
  • You can listen to an excellent MP3 audio version of this story at Starhip Sofa. It is 47 minutes long and starts at time index 2:14.

Some Interesting Links:

  • Did you know that David Brin has a masters degree in applied physics? Yep. You can learn more about this fantastic author on Wikipedia.

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like The 43 Antarean Dynasties, about a proud tour guide showing three humans the remains of his planet’s once great culture, by Mike Resnick.

4 thoughts to “The Crystal Spheres by David Brin”

  1. Absolutely,

    A novel would be great – it felt like the story could’ve gone on much longer. It was so interesting.

  2. One of my favourite ever short stories. The central idea is fascinating and beatifully dealt with and the ending where the previous civilizations are waiting in suspended animation is sad and brilliant at the same time. Fantastic!

  3. I agree Mat,

    The central idea for this story is one of the most unique and fascinating I’ve ever read. A great ending too!

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