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EggAndMe
July 26th, 2009, 12:43 AM
I've been searching for this short story for many years now:

Back in around 1994 or 1995, I picked up some science fiction anthology (but I seem to remember the anthology looking old and ragged, so the story might very well date from decades earlier, maybe even the 1950s). I have no idea what the anthology title or theme was, but the short story in it that I'm looking for had a plot that basically went something like this:

In the far future, people live in paradisical cities. Each city is completely controlled by an AI created by humans. No one lacks for anything; there is peace, prosperity, etc.; these cities are true utopias, wiht the only rule being that the rule of the AI is absolute. Fortunately, the AIs are benevolent.

The eternal law is that anyone may at any time challenge the ruling AI to up to three consecutive contests. If the human contestant is able to win any one of those contests, then he is awarded the chance to re-program the AI. However, for each contest the human contestant loses, the human contestant will be exiled from the city for one month into the "wilds" outside the city which are spoken of by citizens with horror.

Because the rule of the AI is so good and benign, no one has challenged the AI to a contest for decades, or possibly even centuries.

Until the protagonist, who has always been considered a little weird by the other inhabitants of the city and who (I am not at all sure if my memory is correct on the following two points of his character) is a master musician and might have a name starting with the letter "M", decides to challenge the AI.

He and the AI engage in a contest. He loses. Everyone assumes that having lost once, he will now accept exile rather than further challenge the AI and risk even more months of exile, but to everyone's surprise, he challenges the AI again.

He loses the second contest. Everyone assumes that having now lost twice, he will now accept exile rather than further challenge the AI and have to endure yet another month of exile, but to everyone's surprise, he challenges the AI again.

He loses the third and final contest. No more challenges are available to him until he serves his term of exile, so he prepares to do so. Despite his loss, he seems perfectly content, to the surprise of the other citizens.

I think one of the three tests involved music in some way, possibly some kind of "matching notes" test.

I am less sure on this, but I think another of the three tests involved flying around (not in a vehicle; without equipment, in some sort of environment without gravity) in some way.

The day after the protagonist enters exile, everyone in the city has smiles on their faces and is a little bit happier, despite having cheered for their fellow citizen, who lost the contests. The story ends there.

I think the theme that the author was was trying to push was that there is something noble and admirable about the human attempt to try and struggle for the better, even the person ultimately fails.

Again, I've searching for this story for years and would be really grateful if someone could help me figure out the title and author. Thanks!