During a war with the non-human and insect-like Kloros, a group of civilians is taken captive on the spaceship on which they’re flying back to Earth. The civilians are kept alive as prisoners of war, and they anticipate being interned for months or even years. Not only do they not relish the idea of internment, but they are a decidedly mixed lot who don’t particularly care for one another.
One of them, however, a quiet, shy, unobtrustive mouse of a bookkeeper named Randolph Mullen, comes up with a plan for escape—it might be possible to leave their stateroom via its C-chute (aka casualty-chute, used for jettisoning dead bodies) and sneak into the control room via the control jets, getting the drop on their captors. The others agree to the plan, but when none of them are willing to carry it out, it’s up to Mullen to do so.
An excellent story from a number of perspectives. One that I particularly like is the comparatively realistic portrayal of intersteller space-flight and some of the practical problems involved. (The idea of using water in the course of space-flight which is an important part of this story would resurface in "The Martian Way.”) And the spaceship is dark in flight, too, which is an unexpected point.
As for the characters, they are all memorable. Some of them verge on stereotype, particularly the overly-patriotic Colonel Anthony Windham, but Mullen and co-internee John Stuart—who had lived among the Kloros once and had artificial hands they grew for him after he destroyed his own—are particularly vivid. Interestingly enough, Mullen is short. Asimov had an odd obsession with short people at this point in is career and has a number of stories or novels where the fact that the hero is well-below normal height is a significant one. This is among these stories.
All that aside, however, it remains that this is an excellent and vivid story, and among Asimov’s best.
One more note. Asimov had frequent fights with Horace L. Gold, the editor of Galaxy, over his stories, and this was no exception. In the end, Asimov took the memory of the fight over “C-chut” and made it a plot point in the greatly inferior “The Monkey’s Fingers.”
|Through a Glass, Clearly|
|Nightfall and Other Stories|
|The Best of Isaac Asimov|
|Complete Stories, The, Vol. 1|
|Other Worlds of Isaac Asimov|