Colonists on Mars are threatened with a boycott of water exports from Earth and have to resort to desperate measures to ensure a sufficient water supply.

This is one of Asimov’s best efforts from the 1950’s, when his short-fiction writing was at its peak. As a satire of McCarthyism, it’s a little heavy-handed perhaps (the McCarthy stand-in is even named “Hilder,” hint, hint), but that doesn’t matter.

First of all, we have a vivid set of characters here. Strangely, we don’t really focus on any one of them—but then that’s good, since it makes them all stronger. Even Dora Swenson—the shrew whom Asimov introduced as a sop to make Galaxy editor Horace L. Gold happy—is hard to forget.

Secondly, we have a vividly realized society. Asimov has created a Mars colony which feels real on a number of levels—how the Martians live, what drives them, how they relate to the Earth which sent them out. The background society feels like more than just a backdrop, and that is always good.

Third, we have a plausible problem with an unexpected but (given the science of the 1950’s) plausible solution. It’s also interesting to see Asimov using water as a propellant for spacecraft, something he would do again in the equally good “C-Chute.” Technically, it makes sense from the perspective of an armchair physicist like me.

The combination, then, is of interesting characters in an interesting setting, finding an interesting solution to an interesting problem—which usually tends to result in an interesting story.

(Asimov was very fond of this tale himself, partly because of his courage in denouncing McCarthy—indeed, he was a little disappointed that he didn’t get into trouble over it—and partly because he talks about space walking and even describes the euphoria associated with it a decade before anybody actually did it. And it doesn’t hurt that it really is a very good story, too.)

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