Thursday, March 17, 2022

"Siliconeus Asteroidea"

"The Talking Stone."
By Isaac Asimov (1920-92).
First appearance: Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1955.
Reprints page (HERE).
Short story (17 pages).
Online at (HERE) and The Luminist Archives (HERE; go down to text page 107).
     "It may have been the unfinished repair job that kept him alive at that moment. Even more so, perhaps, it was his look of cheerful and almost moronic innocence that stood him in good stead."

It's hard enough to find a lost remote in the couch, so imagine the difficulties in trying to locate a not very large object floating freely in all of those hundreds of billions of cubic miles of emptiness beyond Mars. Never fear, dear friends, because Wendell Urth is on the case . . . .

Main characters:
~ Larry Vernadsky:
  "Three guys, each one bigger than I am, each one armed, and each one ready to kill, I'll bet."
~ The captain of the Robert Q.:
  "Yet he guessed that a man like this captain was not an asteroid miner for the love of solitude alone."
~ Patrolman Milt Hawkins:
  "It makes no sense. Why should he write the coordinates on the asteroid. That's like locking a key inside the cabinet it's meant to open."
~ Inspector H. Seton Davenport:
  "We looked in every place."
~ Dr. Wendell Urth:
  "Don't you see, Inspector, that there is one place on board a spaceship where secret numbers are perfectly safe? Where, although in plain view, they would be perfectly safe from detection? Where, though they were being stared at by a hundred eyes, they would be secure?"
~ The silicony:
  "What after death?"

References and resources:
- "The asteroid belt is large":
  "The asteroid belt is a torus-shaped region in the Solar System, located roughly between the orbits of the planets Jupiter and Mars. It contains a great many solid, irregularly shaped bodies, of many sizes, but much smaller than planets, called asteroids or minor planets" (Wikipedia HERE).
- Before his noisy divorce from science fiction, Donald Westlake produced a story about asteroid miners called "The Risk Profession," which we highlighted (HERE).
- "stuttering hyperatomic drive":
  "Hyperatomic motivators were developed in parallel with the hyperatomic drive in Imperial pre-history, during the time that the Earth and Spacer worlds were in conflict. The theory of hyperatomics states that, in a hyperatomic field, an object basically leaves this Universe, entering Universe H1 in the field G1, where all atoms are now tachyonic in character. Naturally, the field starts to ebb in this wild otherspace and, as it does so, the object reenters realspace. As the object had infinite field in H1, it has moved x light years in relation to our own Universe, all in relation to the time spent in H1" (Asimov Universe HERE).
- "pseudo-grav generators cut off":
  "Artificial gravity is the creation of an inertial force that mimics the effects of a gravitational force, usually by rotation. Artificial gravity, or rotational gravity, is thus the appearance of a centrifugal force in a rotating frame of reference (the transmis-sion of centripetal acceleration via normal force in the non-rotating frame of reference), as opposed to the force experienced in linear acceleration, which by the equivalence principle is indistinguishable from gravity. In a more general sense, 'artificial gravity' may also refer to the effect of linear acceleration, e.g. by means of a rocket engine" (Wikipedia HERE).
  "Anti-gravity (also known as non-gravitational field) is a hypothetical phenomenon of creating a place or object that is free from the force of gravity. It does not refer to the lack of weight under gravity experienced in free fall or orbit, or to balancing the force of gravity with some other force, such as electromagnetism or aerodynamic lift. Anti-gravity is a recurring concept in science fiction, particularly in the context of spacecraft propulsion" (Wikipedia HERE).
  "In many science fiction stories, there are artificial gravity generators that create a gravitational field based on a mass that does not exist" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "The silicony was flowing slowly":
  "The silicon atom has been much discussed as the basis for an alternative biochemical system, because silicon has many chemical properties similar to those of carbon and is in the same group of the periodic table, the carbon group. Like carbon, silicon can create molecules that are sufficiently large to carry biological information" (Wikipedia HERE).
  "A security officer is killed by the creature, bringing Kirk and Spock to the scene. They see the creature, and fire on it, damaging it, but it gets away, tunneling through the rock with its acid. They examine a piece of the creature, which seems to prove Spock's theory of silicon-based life" (Warning! Spoilers! Memory Alpha HERE; also see Atomic Rockets HERE).
- "lousy with uranium":
  "The main use of uranium in the civilian sector is to fuel nuclear power plants. One kilogram of uranium-235 can theoretically produce about 20 terajoules of energy (2×10^13 joules), assuming complete fission; as much energy as 1.5 million kilograms (1,500 tonnes) of coal" (Wikipedia HERE).
- "Hawkins lifted the counter":
  "The first historical uses of the Geiger principle were for the detection of alpha and beta particles, and the instrument is still used for this purpose today. For alpha particles and low energy beta particles, the 'end-window' type of a Geiger–Müller tube has to be used as these particles have a limited range and are easily stopped by a solid material. Therefore, the tube requires a window which is thin enough to allow as many as possible of these particles through to the fill gas. The window is usually made of mica with a density of about 1.5 - 2.0 mg/cm2" (Wikipedia HERE).
- We featured the first Wendell Urth story, "The Singing Bell" (HERE); most recently, we also highlighted one of his positronic robots stories, "Robot AL 76 Goes Astray" (HERE).
By Gary Larson

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