Sucker Bait

Sucker Bait

Sucker Bait is a science fiction novella by Isaac Asimov. It was first serialized in the February and March 1954 issues of Astounding Science Fiction, and reprinted in the 1955 collection The Martian Way and Other Stories.

Troas

Asimov was approached in 1953 by Twayne Press editor Fletcher Pratt with a story proposal: a scientist would create a world, and then he, Poul Anderson and Virginia Kidd (Anderson states that the third writer was Kidd's then-husband, James Blish) would write novellas set in that world. The three novellas would then be published as a book, together with an essay by the scientist who created the scenario. This formula, which Pratt called a Twayne Triplet, had already resulted in the 1952 book The Petrified Planet.

The scenario created was that of a binary star system in the Messier 13 globular cluster with an Earthlike planet called Troas (or more informally, Junior) located at one of the system's Lagrangian points. An earlier expedition to Troas had suffered some mysterious disaster, and a second expedition was being mounted to determine if the planet was suitable for colonization, and to find out what happened to the first expedition.

Asimov finished his story, and Anderson finished a story called "Question and Answer", but Kidd (or Blish) never completed the third story, and the proposed book never saw print. Asimov, anticipating just such an eventuality, confirmed that he held first serial rights on the story, and sold "Sucker Bait" to Astounding (where it appeared a few months before "Question and Answer").

Plot summary

The story concerns the starship George G. Grundy, or Triple G., which has been chartered by the Confederacy of Worlds to investigate Junior. The only nonscientist among the Triple G.'s passengers is 20-year-old Mark Annuncio of the Mnemonic Service, who has been trained from the age of five to memorize and correlate vast amounts of information.

Over a century earlier, an attempt to colonize Junior had failed; after nearly two years on the planet, all 1,337 colonists had died for reasons unknown. The Triple G.'s scientists and Annuncio have to find out what killed them. For the first two weeks after landing, everyone remains aboard while the scientists take readings. After Rodriguez, the expedition's microbiologist, declares the local life forms noninfectious, a handful of scientists, plus Annuncio, travel to the original colony site.

Relations between the scientists and Annuncio deteriorate rapidly. Mnemonics are loners by nature, and their training makes them even more so. The scientists, on the other hand, as specialists, tend to be contemptuous of a professional generalist like Annuncio. When Annuncio asks Rodriguez to explain how he came to a conclusion, the microbiologist regards the request as an affront to his professional reputation, and refuses to answer. The other scientists manage to offend Annuncio in various ways.

When Annuncio finally realizes that the abnormally high concentration of beryllium in Junior's crust was what killed the colonists, and that they all have to leave immediately, he doesn't trust the scientists to deal with it. He returns to the ship and persuades the crew to mutiny and take the ship off the planet. The captain is barely able to convince the crew to stop at the colony site to pick up the scientists. When Annuncio is put on trial for fomenting the mutiny, he explains his actions, is acquitted, and the ship returns to Earth to seek treatment.

Themes

Like other stories by Asimov such as "The Dead Past" and "Profession", the theme of "Sucker Bait" is the peril of scientific overspecialization. Only Annuncio, the professional generalist, can make the connections between seemingly unrelated facts that solves the mystery of the original colonists' deaths and saves the crew and passengers of the Triple G. from sharing their fate. Asimov would soon begin to practice what he preached, making himself into a professional generalist by writing popular science books on a number of different fields, as well as The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science, a general overview of science as a whole.

Story notes

  • Although Junior's two primaries are named Lagrange I and II in the story, the proper astronomical nomenclature would be Lagrange A and B.
  • "Sucker Bait" mentions several fictional planets, including some from other stories: Troas (Junior), Coralemon, Aurora, Sarmatia, Coma Minor, Hesperus, Pretoria, Altmark and Lepta.
  • Some "80,000 worlds" are mentioned as having been colonized by that chronological point in time, and it is perhaps an interesting coincidence that the Spacer world of Aurora — completely unconnected to the Foundation universe at the time Asimov wrote the story — is mentioned. This points to "Sucker Bait" taking place during a period in which Aurora itself was still populated and known to the galaxy at large, and some as-yet-unrevealed time prior to the Mycogenian relocation to Trantor.
  • The story was confirmed by Asimov in 1955 to have been set in his Foundation universe, although some slight inconsistencies exist with the political status and physical condition of Earth by the timeframe of the tale — no mention is made of Earth's ever-increasing radioactivity (though this was retconned to be a very, very gradual process, and not the result of an atomic war circa the 10th millennium), and Earth still appears to be the center of the human race in general.

Footnotes

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