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Literature / The Sack

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The Sack is a 1950 science fiction story by William Morrison (real name; Joseph Samachson). It tells of people finding an alien upon a remote asteroid. The creature is extremely intelligent, capable of answering countless questions on a variety of topics. Unfortunately, it turns out easily obtained answers aren’t a good thing in the long run.


This short story provides examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: Senator Horrigan.
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  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The Sack is good in it. Learning new languages, predicting the future, looking for missing people and such.
  • Bittersweet Ending
    It was strange, thought Siebling, that he felt so unhappy about so happy an ending.
  • Blob Monster: That’s what the Sack looks like, although it’s not much of a monster.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: The Sack is incapable of lying.
  • Cassandra Truth: Siebling is so Genre Savvy about this trope that he doesn’t even try to raise alarms.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The Sack often comes as that due to its bluntness.
  • Gold Fever: The ending has a gang of criminals stealing the Sack and fleeing on a spaceship. A single remark from the Sack throws them into a shooting spree that solves everyone’s problems at once.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: As all conversations with the Sack are monitored, the man who steals it uses an obscure Martian dialect during his question time, which the Sack can understand but not anyone nearby. By the time anyone asks the Sack what they talked about, the plan is already in motion.
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  • Humans Are Morons: That's the Sack's opinion of humanity. Everyone asks questions for his own gain and no one thinks long term.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: The Sack tells Siebling that he must be killed to protect humanity in the long term, and stop criminals stealing him in the short term. Siebling can't bring himself to do so. Instead, the Sack manipulates the criminals into killing each other and remains alone aboard their ship.
  • Last of His Kind: The Sack has been alone for ten thousand years.
  • Living MacGuffin: The Sack is one.
  • Mathematician's Answer: The Sack is big on these when not asked specific questions:
    Committee Member: Where would you find an individual capable of conversing intelligently with so wise a creature as you?
    The Sack: Here
  • Misplaced a Decimal Point: Horrigan does this twice, first when he multiplies 100,000 by 120, then when he multiplies 100,000 by 180. He gets 120 and 180 million, respectively.
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  • Omniglot: The Sack is capable of extrapolating any language from small samples and observing the speaker.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The Sack’s real name is Yzrl, but hardly anyone calls it that.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
    • Senator Horrigan asks the Sack if he's going to lose the next election. The question itself (broadcast to the public) causes him to do so.
    • The criminals want to know if they're in danger from each other. Naturally a "yes" response causes them to turn on each other.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • When the Sack is ordered to answer questions 24/7. It’s a living creature; it must rest.
    • When pirates kidnap the Sack, AKA the key to ultimate power, and expect the gang to hold together with such a treasure onboard
  • The Reliable One: Siebling is not particularly well-liked, but he is trusted completely.
  • Time Abyss: The Sack is four hundred thousand years old.
  • Scry vs. Scry: Toward the end of the story, politics and business have devolved into leaders taking turns asking the Sack.
  • Super Intelligence: Yzrl can extrapolate an entire language from a few words, tell where to look for a missing person, predict the stock market, etc, all purely through analysis.
  • Technopath: The Sack turns out to be one.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future
  • Wham Line: When the Sack is asked whether his answers are doing good or harm. Later, when it is asked about what that last suspicious-looking client wanted.
  • Who Would Be Stupid Enough?:
    • When Senator Horrigan demands to know who was responsible for the Sack having to work 24/7, Siebling gladly informs him that it was legislation that he passed.
    • Siebling is Hauled Before a Senate Subcommittee to explain why he cancelled several appointments with the Sack, forcing the government to compensate those people. The senators insist on speaking with the Sack in person, whereupon they discover that Senator Horrigan has cancelled all upcoming appointments with the Sack.
  • The World Is Not Ready: And how!
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The last of its kind, alone for ten thousand years, doesn't care much about living (or anything at all)... sure causes a lot of chaos.
  • You Didn't Ask: No one asked the Sack a lot of things, including the full extent of its abilities.
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