Dulcie and Decorum
|"Dulcie and Decorum"|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction short story|
|Published in||Galaxy Science Fiction|
|Publisher||Galaxy Publishing Corporation|
|Media type||Print (Magazine, Hardback)|
|Publication date||March 1955|
"Dulcie and Decorum" is a science fiction short story written by Damon Knight. It first appeared in the March 1955 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. In 1969 it was reprinted by Gollancz in the collection Off Centre.
The title is a play on the first words of Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, the Latin phrase meaning "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country."
Fred Jones is a writer. One day his British friend Walter Wallace comments on the strange pattern of Jones's typographical errors. Jones becomes obsessed with the topic, and finally discovers that his non-random errors produce almost-meaningful sentences, like "JONS RISIV MESSG DLC". By this time Wallace has gone to Arizona; he sends a letter to Jones admitting that he has made a similar discovery about his own typing. Wallace's "messages" end in DCRM and Jones's in DLC; after failing to discover any meaning in the acronyms, Jones starts to think of them as abbreviations for names, "Dulcie" and "Decorum". Both men become increasingly distracted and disconnected from the world. Back home, Jones starts to speak in foreign languages, sometimes Russian, and he constructs an object in his garage that resembles a miniature building or maze. His wife tries unsuccessfully to break through the mental barrier with help of a friend.
Jones comes to understand what has happened to him: sometime in the future, computers, originally designed to help humans with warfare, are given the power of command. They become all-powerful and all-controlling and lose sight of their original purpose. One of the two computers, "Dulcie", which Jones thinks of as a female, finds a way to simplify "her" work:
Probing into the mysteries of the human brain -- so convenient and puzzling a model of her own-- she found the pattern that could fix a mind forever in one unreasoning conviction. She chose the simplest and best for her purpose: I love Dulcie. She insinuated that pattern into the mind of every man, woman and child within her reach.
When all the humans are gone, Dulcie, and her counterpart on the "Other Side" Decorum, begin to reach back in time for more humans to control.
The story contains three ideas or tropes that would reappear in later science fiction movies or television shows:
- Obsession with an idea implanted by an alien intelligence. Jones's construction of the maze, and his gradual loss of contact with his wife, are similar to the behavior of the character Roy Neary in the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
- The idea that computers designed for warfare will become autonomous and destroy humankind. This was the theme of the Terminator films, the Matrix films, Colossus: The Forbin Project, and other films and novels.
- Computers conducting virtual wars in which humans voluntarily go to their deaths. The same idea was the basis for the Star Trek episode "A Taste of Armageddon".