A scientific expedition is sent to the planet Troas in an attempt to find out what killed out the colony sent there some time before. On board are the crew, the scientific specialists, and a neurotic but brilliant young man named Mark Annuncio. Mark is part of the Mnemonic Service, dedicated to being a human encyclopedia with the ability to remember and correlate apparently unrelated facts to provide unique solutions nobody else could find. Of course, it is Mark who solves the mystery and has to resort to desperate measures to get the adults around him to believe him.
I like this story probably better than it deserves. I had in my younger days a reputation of being something of a human encyclopedia—it was reading all them books by Isaac Asimov what was responsible—and Mark’s pain at being surrounded by a universe of facts he would never have time to learn is one with which I can relate. (Does anybody here doubt that Asimov was drawing on his own experience?)
Beyond that, however, it’s still an interesting and a solid piece of work. One wonders why Asimov only anthologized it once. For example, it would have fit in marvelously in The Edge of Tomorrow.
In addition to Mark, we are treated to a number of memorable characters: the captain of the Triple G, the ship on which the scientists travel; Mark’s keeper, Oswald Sheffield; Emmanuel Cimon, the chief of the scientific expedition, and so on. The “mystery”—as one might expect—turns on a rather trivial point, but one which the reader of the 1950’s might reasonably be expected to know. The astronomy is also rather interesting. In “Nightfall,” Asimov treats is to a rather impossible bit of astronomy in order to create a world with six suns—here Asimov seems determined to have a planet with more than one Sun but to do it right.
This then is definitely one of Asimov’s better tales, one which deserves more of an audience than it probably gets.
Regarding its origin, Rich Horton offered the following on alt.books.isaac-asimov (message ID <U6KB7.email@example.com>):
It's one of my favorites of his stories, as well. Indeed, I quite like all three stories in _The Martian Way_.
As you probably know, “Sucker Bait” was written to be part of one of the first attempts at “shared world” type SF stories, the Twayne Triplets. A scientist would design a “world” and a situation, and three writers would be commissioned to write novellas based on the world/situation.
Only two Twayne Triplets were ever published, and one of them, _Witches Three_, didn't really fit the format. (It collects Fritz Leiber's already written and published novel, _Gather Darkness_, and adds two novellas written to similar themes, “The Blue Star” by Fletcher Pratt (who was the editor), and “There Shall Be No Darkness” by James Blish. The Blish story was a revision of an earlier Blish novelette by the same title, with the witch subplot added to make it fit the book's theme.) The other is _The Petrified Planet_, which includes “The Long View” by Pratt, “Uller Uprising” by H. Beam Piper, and “Daughter of Earth” by Judith Merril.
Twayne went out of business, or at any rate discontinued the Triplet program, before the book with “Sucker Bait” in it could be published. One of the other stories was Poul Anderson's “Question and Answer,” which appeared in Astounding as a two-part serial only a few months after “Sucker Bait” (also a two-part serial). The third was to be written either by Blish or by Blish's then wife (IIRC) Virginia Kidd -- different sources cite different writers. It was never written, apparently.
The only other prospective Twayne Triplet stories I know of for sure are another pair of which the third was not completed: “Get Out of My Sky,” again by Blish, and “Second Landing” by Murray Leinster. The prospective third story was “First Cycle” by H. Beam Piper, which Piper left unfinished, but which Michael Kurland completed and published in 1982.
I have also seen assertions that Blish's “A Case of Conscience” (at least the original novelette) was part of a prospective Triplet, for which apparently there are no extant companion stories.