Ask a Foolish Question

Cover image for


Author: Robert Sheckley
Published: 1953
Language: English
Wordcount: 3,806 / 19 pg
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 65.5
LoC Category: PS
Downloads: 5,399
Added to site: 2010.10.11 29239

It's well established now that the way you put a question often determines not only the answer you'll get, but the type of answer possible. So ... a mechanical answerer, geared to produce the ultimate revelations in reference to anything you want to know, might have unsuspected limitations.

Show Excerpt

n, eyes closed, didn't answer.

"We're bushmen. But the gap is much greater here. Worm and super-man, perhaps. The worm desires to know the nature of dirt, and why there's so much of it. Oh, well."

"Shall we go, sir?" Morran asked. Lingman's eyes remained closed. His taloned fingers were clenched, his cheeks sunk further in. The skull was emerging.

"Sir! Sir!"

And Answerer knew that that was not the answer.

* * * * *

Alone on his planet, which is neither large nor small, but exactly the right size, Answerer waits. He cannot help the people who come to him, for even Answerer has restrictions.

He can answer only valid questions.

Universe? Life? Death? Purple? Eighteen?

Partial truths, half-truths, little bits of the great question.

But Answerer, alone, mumbles the questions to himself, the true questions, which no one can understand.

How could they understand the true answers?

The questions will never be asked, and Answerer remem


Average Rating of 3.3 from 6 reviews: ****
Sardo Weems

Just an okay story, short enough not to be a waste of time. A couple of glaring questions pop up at the end. (Why would anyone bother to consult a machine that never manages a helpful answer? Why wouldn't a race that built a machine that knew everthing anticipate its limitations and allow for them?)


The "Answerer" will answer any question. So why do pilgrims to the great machine depart in disappointment? Interesting story, very short and worth a read.

Mahesh Chitrao

This story is actually a very profound epistemological comment on what is knowable and what is not. It puts in question everything we (human beings) believe as absolute truth. At least to me, it made me rethink my whole belief system.

Andrew Ives

Quite a clever sci-fi story, but not one I enjoyed much as it was rather too crazy for my liking.

Jack Meogh

Consider the premise that you could ask a super-being any question and get an answer. Wouldn't the answer depend on your understanding? If you ask, "What is the meaning of life?" how would you come to understand the answer?

Remember that, "Learning occurs at the edge of knowledge." The Answerer can not "leap" you forward over what you don't know. And it can't help you "unlearn" incorrect assumptions. The Answerer even appears differently to each species that approaches it.

Very entertaining and thought-provoking. I recommend it.


Many different types of aliens travel to the Answerer, a machine which can answer any question. A good short story.

(Promote your book here)

Featured Books

Cover image for Ask a Foolish Question by Robert Sheckley - Free eBook

Rise of The Iron Eagle

The Iron Eagle Series Book 1
Roy A. Teel Jr.

Is The Iron Eagle a psychotic serial killer?Read more

Cover image for Ask a Foolish Question by Robert Sheckley - Free eBook


True Alpha 1
Alisa Woods

Shifters in Seattle – Desired (True Alpha 1) Ne... Read more

Cover image for Ask a Foolish Question by Robert Sheckley - Free eBook

Open Minds

Mindjack Saga Book 1
Susan Kaye Quinn

When everyone reads minds, a secret is a danger... Read more

Cover image for Ask a Foolish Question by Robert Sheckley - Free eBook

XGeneration 1

You Don't Know Me (XGeneration Series)
Brad Magnarella

In the fall of 1984, Cold War tensions between... Read more

Cover image for Ask a Foolish Question by Robert Sheckley - Free eBook

Drive, Ride, Repeat

The Mostly-True Account of a Cross-Country Car and Bicycle Adventure
Al Macy

Author Al Macy is a character and a tightwad wi... Read more

Cover image for Ask a Foolish Question by Robert Sheckley - Free eBook

I Bring the Fire

Part I: Wolves (A Loki Story)
C. Gockel

In the middle of America, Amy Lewis is on her way... Read more

login | register

User ID


reset password

Help ManyBooks by sharing this page!

See it as donating a moment of your social media time, every little thing helps us improve and stay online.

Popular in This Genre

The list of books below is based on the weekly downloads by our users regardless of eReader device or file format.

by Théophile Gautier
The Call of Cthulhu
by H. P. Lovecraft
I'm a Stranger Here Myself
by Dallas McCord Reynolds
Beside Still Waters
by Robert Sheckley
...After a Few Words...
by Gordon Randall Garrett
The Azteck Opal
by Rodrigues Ottolengui
The Adventure of the Red Circle
by Arthur Conan Doyle
Accidental Death
by Peter Baily

See more popular titles from this genre.