In the universe of the Galactic Empire (which would include eventually the Foundations), a non-human race is discovered and carefully herded to a planet to use as a combination zoo, laboratory, and reservation. Desperately unhappy, they are dying off, until the administrator in charge of their cage launches a clever plan to buy them escape and freedom.
This is a marvelous story for a number of reasons. One is its treatment of non-human intelligences, which Asimov abandoned temporarily early in his career to avoid continuing conflict with John Campbell over the innate superiority of (Anglo-Saxon) humanity over any other kind of intelligence. This is the only story in the Foundation universe to deal with non-humans—well, discounting robots, the Solarians of Foundation and Earth, and Gaia from Foundation’s Edge.
I also am delighted by Asimov’s illustration of working the system from within. Loodun Antyok manipulates everybody about him brilliantly and manages to accomplish what is truly best for the non-humans without compromising his own position as, essentially, the Emperor’s zookeeper.
And I am also delighted by Asimov’s satire of bureaucratese. Asimov was working for the government at the time and used this opportunity to vent his frustration with the official mindless style he was forced to use (as he would later do again regarding his dissertation, Kinetics of the reaction inactivation of tyrosinase during its catalysis of the aerobic oxidation of catechol by writing "The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline”).
So this is definitely one of Asimov’s best stories from the 1940’s and, indeed, one of the best of his career.
|The Early Asimov|
|The Asimov Chronicles|
|Complete Stories, The, Vol. 2|
|Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories 7, 1945|