The Nostalgist

The Nostalgist

illustration by sam weber

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

He was an old man who lived in a modest gonfab, and over the last eighty hours his Eyes™ and Ears™ had begun to fail. In the first forty hours, he had ignored the increasingly strident sounds of the city of Vanille and focused on teaching the boy who lived with him. But after another forty hours the old man could no longer stand the Doppler-affected murmur of travelers on the slidewalks outside, and the sight of the boy’s familiar deformities became overwhelming. It made the boy sad to see the old man’s stifled revulsion, so he busied himself by sliding the hanging plastic sheets of the inflatable dwelling into layers that dampened the street noise. The semitransparent veils were stiff with grime and they hung still and useless like furled, ruined sails.

The old man was gnarled and bent, and his tendons were like taut cords beneath the skin of his arms. He wore a soiled white undershirt and his sagging chest bristled with gray hairs. A smooth patch of pink skin occupied a hollow under his left collar bone, marking the place where a rifle slug had passed cleanly through many decades before. He had been a father, an engineer, and a war-fighter, but for many years now he had lived peacefully with the boy.

Everything about the old man was natural and wrinkled except for his Eyes™ and Ears™, thick glasses resting on the creased bridge of his nose and two flesh-colored buds nestled in his ears. They were battered technological artifacts that captured sights and sounds and sanitized every visual and auditory experience. The old man sometimes wondered whether he could bear to live without these artifacts. He did not think so.

“Grandpa,” the boy said as he arranged the yellowed plastic curtains. “Today I will visit Vanille City and buy you new Eyes™ and Ears™.”

The old man had raised the boy and healed him when he was sick and the boy loved him.

“No, no,” replied the old man. “The people there are cruel. I can go myself.”

“Then I will visit the metro fab and bring you some lunch.”

“Very well,” said the old man, and he pulled on his woolen coat.

A faded photo of the boy, blond and smiling and happy, hung next to the door of the gonfab. They passed by the photo, pushed the door flaps aside, and walked together into the brilliant dome light. A refreshing breeze ruffled the boy’s hair. He faced into it as he headed for the slidewalk at the end of the path. A scrolling gallery of pedestrians passed steadily by. Sometimes the fleeting pedestrians made odd faces at the boy, but he was not angry. Other pedestrians, the older ones, looked at him and were afraid or sad, but tried not to show it. Instead, they stepped politely onto faster slidestrips further away from the stained gonfab.

“I will meet you back here in one hour,” said the old man.

“See you,” replied the boy, and the old man winced. His failing Ears™ had let through some of the grating quality of the boy’s true voice, and it unsettled him. But his Ears™ crackled back online and, as the slidestrips pulled them away in separate directions, he chose only to wave goodbye.

23 comments
Irene Gallo
2. Irene
This is one of my favorites. Looking forward to revisiting it with the audio version.

For an enlarged version of Sam Weber's illustration, click here.
Ethan Glasser-Camp
4. glasserc
I'm not sure how to feel about this. I'll admit that the fault is mine, but I can't see this as a story so much as a political statement -- and I'm not exactly sure what the statement is. Is it a statement that the future is ugly, and that technology will rob us of our humanity? That robots can be as human as people, when they achieve enlightenment? That nobody can really face cold, hard reality?

Ethan
Camille888000
5. Camille888000
Somehow very poignant, even though this future is ugly, ugly, ugly. Will probably be thinking of the boy and the old man all afternoon.
Camille888000
7. Cedarpark
Outstanding story. I can't help but think of the Italian fable, but this twist on it will stick with me for quite a while.

Great story.
Sarah Ann Ran
8. Arete
And thanks to Cedarpark@7... it all makes complete and utter sense now.

What's really funny now, is that I've been thinking about how people outside a culture deal with the shorthand a culture develops with its' myths/fairytales/legends: like Red Riding Hood or Puss in Boots. If you don't recognize the reference, sometimes story in and of itself seems disjointed.

(For those who are still confused, as far as I can tell, the fable referenced is Pinocchio.)
Camille888000
9. CyberspaceCowboy
Santiago in the 25th Century.
Camille888000
10. jp182
awesome story!
Camille888000
11. WriterDan
Nice story. Have to say that I enjoyed that one, which, unfortunately, is a rare treat when it comes to sci-fi.
Camille888000
12. Sandy Huff
when we are all cobbled together with synthetic parts, and choose to hear and see no evil, we will still look for closeness and loved ones. This is a shocking story of a possible future. But that is what Sci-fi is all about...extrapolating "What If" to an advanced degree. Well written story.
Camille888000
13. Ralph Howes
Great stuff, quite gripping. I loved the boys kinetic analysis. Those LEEX are a bit lethal though, the police force must have a really crappy procurement process!
Camille888000
14. Pam Wilson
Loved it! Really thought provoking and I cant wait for the next writing. Is this really sci-fi or a bit of reality?
Tony Kemp
16. thelibrarian
Why is this story split up into 6 pages? It's not like we will run out of vertical space in a web browser - they have these things called scrollbars now - you may have heard of them.

Seriously - why the change from single to multi page? It just makes the whole thing a pain to read. So much so that I've not bothered reading any stories since the change.
Camille888000
17. Tom Stone
Daniel Wilson’s short story engaged me with its blend of surreal, science fiction qualities and familiar themes of reciprocity and victory of the underdog. Of the science fiction earmarks such as slidewalks and gonfabs, the Eyes™ and Ears™ were the most fascinating serving as symbolic linkage of the story’s futuristic theme with the heartfelt psychological theme of coping with loss. Since much of Wilson’s work and writing has focused on robots and their extraordinary abilities, The Nostalgist offers a clever solution to a potential paradox, namely, with feelings comes painful self-awareness. But, here, as with many other human capacities, Wilson gives the boy robot a solution, a solution many humans might envy, he simply hits reset. “Sometimes its better to forget.” I love it!!
Camille888000
18. Lambert Dolphin
Daniel, This is superb! In high school (back in the 50s) I devoured SciFi night and day. Gradually most of it has failed to interest me very much or very often anymore. IMO the elements of human feeling and consciousness and longing for relationships has been decreasing. This story is marvelous my friend. I'd love to be your grandfather. Lambert
Camille888000
19. zlaen
I really enjoyed this story. It really makes you think, and painfully accentuates the emotions of the old man and the boy to a level where we can really relate. This showed great insight into the future, and I love the sci-fi/dystopia feel. The Eyes and Ears were fresh, and showed terrific contrast between perception and reality.

Amazing story, amazing art!
Camille888000
20. Lambert Dolphin
Not only is your writing superb and a pleasure to follow, but this story is emotionally captivating. It's great to see how love and caring and relationships persist in your nearly-all mechanical world. Your great giftedness strikes me once again. Thanks!
Christopher Hatton
21. Xopher
Very rich and emotionally engaging. One thing though: at the end, I half expected the boy to say "Did I fall asleep?"
Camille888000
22. aeschylus00
Amazing story with a terrific concept. The artwork that accompanies it is fantastic as well.
Camille888000
23. Jay Pochapin
I enjoyed it; kind of an homage to Rod Serling ("Casey at the Bat") with a little Ray Bradbury thrown in... A wonderful bit of work!

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