ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Isaac Asimov, noted biochemist and professor at the Boston University School of Medicine, is
not only recognized as one of the greatest science fiction writers of our time but has also
been praised for the excitement he brings to the writing of scientific fact.
In this collection Dr. Asimov's probing imagination has created nine fascinating adventures
set in the not-too-distant future— adventures that could change from fiction to fact any day
Other Fawcett Crest Books by Isaac Asimov:
PEBBLE IN THE SKY
THE END OF ETERNITY
THE CAVES OF STEEL
THE MARTIAN WAY
EARTH IS ROOM ENOUGH
Tales of the Near Future
A FAWCETT CREST BOOK
Fawcett Publications, Inc., Greenwich, Conn.
To Betty Shapian,
whose kindness and helpfulness
have been unfailing
THIS BOOK CONTAINS THE COMPLETE TEXT OF THE ORIGINAL HARDCOVER EDITION.
A Fawcett Crest Book reprinted by arrangement with Doubleday & Company, Inc.
Copyright ? 1959 by Isaac Asimov.
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any
All of the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Selection of the Science Fiction Book Club, June 1959
Printed in the United States of America
?????? I Just Make Them Up, See!????????????
?????? Rejection Slips???????????????????????????????
2??? The Feeling of Power??????????????
3???? The Dying Night?????????????????????
4???? I'm in Marsport without Hilda?
5???? The Gentle Vultures????????? ??????
6??? All the Troubles in the World?
7??? Spell My Name with an S???????
8???? The Last Question??????????????????
9??? The Ugly Little Boy??????????????
I JUST MAKE THEM UP, SEE!
Oh, Dr. A.— Oh, Dr. A.— There is something (don't go 'way) That I'd like to hear you say. Though I'd rather die Than try To pry, The fact, you'll find, Is that my mind Has evolved the jackpot question for today. ? I intend no cheap derision, So please answer with decision, And, discarding all your petty cautious fears, Tell the secret of your vision! How on earth Do you give birth To those crazy and impossible ideas? ? Is it indigestion
And a question Of the nightmare that results? Of your eyeballs whirling, Twirling, Fingers curling And unfurling, While your blood beats maddened chimes As it keeps impassioned times With your thick, uneven pulse? ?
that, you think, or liquorIs it That brings on the wildness quicker? For a teeny Weeny Dry martini May be just your private genie; Or perhaps those Tom and Jerries You will find the very Berries For inducing And unloosing That weird gimmick or that kicker; Or an awful Combination Of unlawful Stimulation, Marijuana plus tequila, That will give you just that feel o' Things a-clicking And unsticking As you start your cerebration To the crazy syncopation Of a brain a-tocking-ticking. ? Surely something, Dr. A., Makes you fey And quite outré. Since I read you with devotion, Won't you give me just a notion Of that shrewdly pepped-up potion Out of which emerge your plots? That wild secret bubbly mixture That has made you such a fixture
In most favored s. f. spots— ? Now, Dr. A., Don't go away— Oh, Dr. A.— ? Oh, Dr. A—
? a – Learned ? Dear Asimov, all mental laws Prove orthodoxy has its flaws. Consider that eclectic clause In Kant's philosophy that gnaws With ceaseless anti-logic jaws At all outworn and useless saws That stick in modern mutant craws. So here's your tale (with faint applause). The words above show ample cause. ? b – Gruff ? Dear Ike, I was prepared (And, boy, I really cared) To swallow almost anything you wrote. But, Ike, you're just plain shot, Your writing's gone to pot, There's nothing left but hack and mental bloat. Take back this piece of junk; It smelled; it reeked; it stunk; Just glancing through it once was deadly rough. But Ike, boy, by and by, Just try another try. I need some yarns and, kid, I love your stuff. ? c - Kindly ? Dear Isaac, friend of mine, I thought your tale was fine. Just frightful- Ly delightful And with merits all a-shine. It meant a quite full
Friend, of tension
With full measure
Of the pleasure
It is triteful,
That some tiny faults are there.
Perhaps a touch,
And over such
You shouldn't pine.
So let me say
My pal, my friend,
Your story's end
Has left me gay
And joyfully composed.
I must confess
(With some distress)
Your story is regretfully enclosed.
George Platen could not conceal the longing in his voice. It was too much to suppress. He said,"Tomorrow's the first of May. Olympics!"
He rolled over on his stomach and peered over the foot of his bed at his roommate. Didn't hefeel it, too? Didn't this make some impression on him?
George's face was thin and had grown a trifle thinner in the nearly year and a half that he hadbeen at the House. His figure was slight but the look in his blue eyes was as intense as it hadever been, and right now there was a trapped look in the way his fingers curled against thebedspread.
George's roommate looked up briefly from his book and took the opportunity to adjust the light-level of the stretch of wall near his chair. His name was Hali Omani and he was a Nigerian bybirth. His dark brown skin and massive features seemed made for calmness, and mention of theOlympics did not move him.
He said, "I know, George."
George owed much to Hali's patience and kindness when it was needed, but even patience andkindness could be overdone. Was this a time to sit there like a statue built of some dark, warmwood?
George wondered if he himself would grow like that after ten years here and rejected thethought violently. No!
He said defiantly, "I think you've forgotten what May means."
The other said, "I remember very well what it means. It means nothing! You're the one who'sforgotten that. May means nothing to you, George Platen, and," he added softly, "it meansnothing to me, Hali Omani."
George said, "The ships are coming in for recruits. By June, thousands and thousands will leavewith millions of men and women heading for any world you can name, and all that means nothing?"
"Less than nothing. What do you want me to do about it, anyway?" Omani ran his finger along adifficult passage in the book he was reading and his lips moved soundlessly.
George watched him. Damn it, he thought, yell, scream; you can do that much. Kick at me, doanything.
It was only that he wanted not to be so alone in his anger. He wanted not to be the only one sofilled with resentment, not to be the only one dying a slow death.
It was better those first weeks when the Universe was a small shell of vague light and soundpressing down upon him. It was better before Omani had wavered into view and dragged him backto a life that wasn't worth living.
Omani! He was old! He was at least thirty. George thought: Will I be like that at thirty? WillI be like that in twelve years?
And because he was afraid he might be, he yelled at Omani, "Will you stop reading that foolbook?"
Omani turned a page and read on a few words, then lifted his head with its skullcap of crisplycurled hair and said, "What?"
"What good does it do you to read the book?" He stepped forward, snorted "More electronics,"and slapped it out of Omani's hands.
Omani got up slowly and picked up the book. He smoothed a crumpled page without visible rancor."Call it the satisfaction of curiosity," he said. "I understand a little of it today, perhaps alittle more tomorrow. That's a victory in a way."
"A victory. What kind of a victory? Is that what satisfies you in life? To get to know enoughto be a quarter of a Registered Electronician by the time you're sixty-five?"
"Perhaps by the time I'm thirty-five."
"And then who'll want you? Who'll use you? Where will you go?"
"No one. No one. Nowhere. I'll stay here and read other books."
"And that satisfies you? Tell me! You've dragged me to class. You've got me to reading andmemorizing, too. For what? There's nothing in it that satisfies me."
"What good will it do you to deny yourself satisfaction?"
"It means I'll quit the whole farce. I’ll do as I planned to do in the beginning before youdovey-lovied me out of it. I'm going to force them to—to—"
Omani put down his book. He let the other run down and then said, 'To what, George?"
"To correct a miscarriage of justice. A frame-up. I'll get that Antonelli and force him toadmit he—he—"
Omani shook his head. "Everyone who comes here insists it's a mistake. I thought you'd passedthat stage."
"Don't call it a stage," said George violently. "In my case, it's a fact. I've told you—"
"You've told me, but in your heart you know no one made any mistake as far as you wereconcerned."
"Because no one will admit it? You think any of them would admit a mistake unless they wereforced to?—Well, I'll force them."
It was May that was doing this to George; it was Olympics month. He felt it bring the oldwildness back and he couldn't stop it. He didn't want to stop it. He had been in danger offorgetting.
can be one. I could be one today,He said, "I was going to be a Computer Programmer and I
regardless of what they say analysis shows." He pounded his mattress. "They're wrong. They must be."
"The analysts are never wrong."
"They must be. Do you doubt my intelligence?"
"Intelligence hasn't one thing to do with it. Haven't you been told that often enough? Can'tyou understand that?"
George rolled away, lay on his back, and stared somberly at the ceiling.
"What did you want to be, Hali?"
"I had no fixed plans. Hydroponicist would have suited me, I suppose."
"Did you think you could make it?"
"I wasn't sure."
George had never asked personal questions of Omani before. It struck him as queer, almostunnatural, that other people had had ambitions and ended here. Hydroponicist!
He said, "Did you think you'd make this?"
"No, but here I am just the same."
"And you're satisfied. Really, really satisfied. You're happy. You love it. You wouldn't beanywhere else."
Slowly, Omani got to his feet. Carefully, he began to unmake his bed. He said, "George, you'rea hard case. You're knocking yourself out because you won't accept the facts about yourself.George, you're here in what you call the House, but I've never heard you give it its fulltitle. Say it, George, say it. Then go to bed and sleep this off."
George gritted his teeth and showed them. He chocked out, "No!"
"Then I will," said Omani, and he did. He shaped each syllable carefully.
George was bitterly ashamed at the sound of it. He turned his head away.
For most of the first eighteen years of his life, George Platen had headed firmly in onedirection, that of Registered Computer Programmer. There were those in his crowd who spokewisely of Spationautics, Refrigeration Technology, Transportation Control, and evenAdministration. But George held firm.
He argued relative merits as vigorously as any of them, and why not? Education Day loomed aheadof them and was the great fact of their existence. It approached steadily, as fixed and certainas the calendar—the first day of November of the year following one's eighteenth birthday.
After that day, there were other topics of conversation. One could discuss with others somedetail of the profession, or the virtues of one's wife and children, or the fate of one'sspace-polo team, or one's experiences in the Education Day, however, there was only one topicthat unfailingly and unwearyingly held everyone's interest, and that was Education Day.
"What are you going for? Think you'll make it? Heck, that's no good. Look at the records;quota's been cut. Logistics now—"
Or Hypermechanics now—Or Communications now—Or Gravities now—
Especially Gravities at the moment. Everyone had been talking about Gravities in the few yearsjust before George's Education Day because of the development of the Gravitic power engine.
Any world within ten light-years of a dwarf star, everyone said, would give its eyeteeth forany kind of Registered Gravities Engineer.
The thought of that never bothered George. Sure it would; all the eyeteeth it could scare up.But George had also heard what had happened before in a newly developed technique.Rationalization and simplification followed in a flood. New models each year; new types ofgravitic engines; new principles. Then all those eyeteeth gentlemen would find themselves outof date and superseded by later models with later educations. The first group would then haveto settle down to unskilled labor or ship out to some backwoods world that wasn't quite caughtup yet.
Now Computer Programmers were in steady demand year after year, century after century. Thedemand never reached wild peaks; there was never a howling bull market for Programmers; but thedemand climbed steadily as new worlds opened up and as older words grew more complex.
He had argued with Stubby Trevelyan about that constantly. As best friends, their arguments hadto be constant and vitriolic and, of course, neither ever persuaded or was persuaded.
But then Trevelyan had had a father who was a Registered Metallurgist and had actually servedon one of the Outworlds, and a grandfather who had also been a Registered Metallurgist. Hehimself was intent on becoming a Registered Metallurgist almost as a matter of family right andwas firmly convinced that any other profession was a shade less than respectable.
"There'll always be metal," he said,? "and there's? an accomplishment in molding alloys tospecification and watching structures grow. Now what's a Programmer going to be doing. Sittingat a coder all day long, feeding some fool mile-long machine."
Even at sixteen, George had learned to be practical. He said simply, "There'll be a millionMetallurgists put out along with you."
"Because it's good. A good profession. The best."
"But you get crowded out, Stubby. You can be way back in line. Any world can tape out its ownMetallurgists, and the market for advanced Earth models isn't so big. And it's mostly the smallworlds that want them. You know what per cent of the turn-out of Registered Metallurgists gettabbed for worlds with a Grade A rating. I looked it up. It's just 13.3 per cent. That meansyou'll have seven chances in eight of being stuck in some world that just about has runningwater. You may even be stuck on Earth; 2.3 per cent are."
Trevelyan said belligerently, "There's no disgrace in staying on Earth. Earth needstechnicians, too. Good ones." His grandfather had been an Earth-bound Metallurgist, andTrevelyan lifted his finger to his upper lip and dabbed at an as yet nonexistent mustache.
George knew about Trevelyan's grandfather and, considering the Earth-bound position of his ownancestry, was in no mood to sneer. He said diplomatically, "No intellectual disgrace. Of coursenot. But it's nice to get into a Grade A world, isn't it?
"Now you take Programmers. Only the Grade A worlds have the kind of computers that really needfirst-class Programmers so they're the only ones in the market. And Programmer tapes arecomplicated and hardly any one fits. They need more Programmers than their own population cansupply. It's just a matter of statistics. There's one first-class Programmer per million, say.A world needs twenty and has a population of ten million, they have to come to Earth for fiveto fifteen Programmers. Right?
"And you know how many Registered Computer Programmers went to Grade A planets last year? I'lltell you. Every last one. If you're a Programmer, you're a picked man. Yes, sir."
Trevelyan frowned. "If only one in a million makes it, what makes you think you'll make it?"
George said guardedly, "I'll make it."
He never dared tell anyone; not Trevelyan; not his parents; of exactly what he was doing thatmade him so confident. But he wasn't worried. He was simply confident (that was the worst ofthe memories he had in the hopeless days afterward). He was as blandly confident as the averageeight-year-old kid approaching Reading Day— that childhood preview of Education Day.
Of course, Reading Day had been different. Partly, there was the simple fact of childhood. Aboy of eight takes many extraordinary things in stride. One day you can't read and the next dayyou can. That's just the way things are. Like the sun shining.
And then not so much depended upon it. There were no recruiters just ahead, waiting andjostling for the lists and scores on the coming Olympics. A boy or girl who goes through theReading Day is just someone who has ten more years of undifferentiated living upon Earth'scrawling surface; just someone who returns to his family with one new ability.
By the time Education Day came, ten years later, George wasn't even sure of most of the detailsof his own Reading Day.
Most clearly of all, he remembered it to be a dismal September day with a mild rain falling.(September for Reading Day; November for Education Day; May for Olympics. They made nurseryrhymes out of it.) George had dressed by the wall lights, with his parents far more excitedthan he himself was. His father was a Registered Pipe Fitter and had found his occupation onEarth. This fact had always been a humiliation to him, although, of course, as anyone could seeplainly, most of each generation must stay on Earth in the nature of things.
There had to be farmers and miners and even technicians on Earth. It was only the late-model,high-specialty professions that were in demand on the Outworlds, and only a few millions a yearout of Earth's eight billion population could be exported. Every man and woman on Earthcouldn't be among that group.
But every man and woman could hope that at least one of his children could be one, and Platen,Senior, was certainly no exception. It was obvious to him (and, to be sure, to others as well)that George was notably intelligent and quick-minded. He would be bound to do well and he wouldhave to, as he was an only child. If George didn't end on an Outworld, they would have to waitfor grandchildren before a next chance would come along, and that was too far in the future tobe much consolation.
Reading Day would not prove much, of course, but it would be the only indication they wouldhave before the big day itself. Every parent on Earth would be listening to the quality ofreading when his child came home with it; listening for any particularly easy flow of words andbuilding that into certain omens of the future. There were few families that didn't have atleast one hopeful who, from Reading Day on, was the great hope because of the way he handledhis trisyllabics.
Dimly, George was aware of the cause of his parents' tension, and if there was any anxiety inhis young heart that drizzly morning, it was only the fear that his father's hopeful expressionmight fade out when he returned home with his reading.
The children met in the large assembly room of the town's Education hall. All over Earth, inmillions of local halls, throughout that month, similar groups of children would be meeting.George felt depressed by the grayness of the room and by the other children, strained and stiffin unaccustomed finery.
Automatically, George did as all the rest of the children did. He found the small clique thatrepresented the children on his floor of the apartment house and joined them.
Trevelyan, who lived immediately next door, still wore his hair childishly long and was yearsremoved from the sideburns and thin, reddish mustache that he was to grow as soon as he wasphysiologically capable of it.
Trevelyan (to whom George was then known as Jaw-jee) said, "Bet you're scared."
"I am not," said George. Then, confidentially, "My folks got a hunk of printing up on thedresser in my room, and when I come home, I'm going to read it for them." (George's mainsuffering at the moment lay in the fact that he didn't quite know where to put his hands. Hehad been warned not to scratch his head or rub his ears or pick his nose or put his hands intohis pockets. This eliminated almost every possibility.)
Trevelyan put his hands in his pockets and said, "My father isn't worried."
Trevelyan, Senior, had been a Metallurgist on Diporia for nearly seven years, which gave him asuperior social status in his neighborhood even though he had retired and returned to Earth.
Earth discouraged these re-immigrants because of population problems, but a small trickle didreturn. For one thing the cost of living was lower on Earth, and what was a trifling annuity onDiporia, say, was a comfortable income on Earth. Besides, there were always men who found moresatisfaction in displaying their success before the friends and scenes of their childhood thanbefore all the rest of the Universe besides.
Trevelyan, Senior, further explained that if he stayed on Diporia, so would his children, andDiporia was a one-spaceship world. Back on Earth, his kids could end anywhere, even Novia.
Stubby Trevelyan had picked up that item early. Even before Reading Day, his conversation wasbased on the carelessly assumed fact that his ultimate home would be in Novia.
George, oppressed by thoughts of the other's future greatness and his own small-time contrast,was driven to belligerent defense at once.
"My father isn't worried either. He just wants to hear me read because he knows I’ll be good.I suppose your father would just as soon not hear you because he knows you'll be all wrong."
On Novia, I'll people to read to me."nothing. hire "I will not be all wrong. Reading is
"Because you won't be able to read yourself, on account of you're dumb!"
"Then how come I'll be on Novia?"
And George, driven, made the great denial, "Who says you'll be on Novia? Bet you don't goanywhere."
Stubby Trevelyan reddened. "I won't be a Pipe Fitter like your old man."
"Take that back, you dumbhead."
"You take that back."
They stood nose to nose, not wanting to fight but relieved at having something familiar to doin this strange place. Furthermore, now that George had curled his hands into fists and liftedthem before his face, the problem of what to do with his hands was, at least temporarily,solved. Other children gathered round excitedly.
But then it all ended when a woman's voice sounded loudly over the public address system. Therewas instant silence everywhere. George dropped his fists and forgot Trevelyan.
"Children," said the voice, "we are going to call out your names. As each child is called, heor she is to go to one of the men waiting along the side walls. Do you see them? They arewearing red uniforms so they will be easy to find. The girls will go to the right. The boyswill go to the left. Now look about and see which man in red is nearest to you—"
George found his man at a glance and waited for his name to be called off. He had not beenintroduced before this to the sophistications of the alphabet, and the length of time it tookto reach his own name grew disturbing.
The crowd of children thinned; little rivulets made their way to each of the red-clad guides.
When the name "George Platen" was finally called, his sense of relief was exceeded only by thefeeling of pure gladness at the fact that Stubby Trevelyan still stood in his place, uncalled.
George shouted back over his shoulder as he left, "Yay, Stubby, maybe they don't want you."
That moment of gaiety quickly left. He was herded into a line and directed down corridors inthe company of strange children. They all looked at one another, large-eyed and concerned, butbeyond a snuffling, "Quitcher pushing" and "Hey, watch out" there was no conversation. Theywere handed little slips of paper which they were told must remain with them. George stared athis curiously. Little black marks of different shapes. He knew it to be printing but how couldanyone make words out of it? He couldn't imagine.
He was told to strip; he and four other boys who were all that now remained together. All thenew clothes came shucking off and four eight-year-olds stood naked and small, shivering moreout of embarrassment than cold. Medical technicians came past, probing them, testing them with