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“The Key” by Isaac Asimov
Card picked: Queen of Clubs
From: Asimov’s Mysteries, a Double Day Book Club edition that I purchased at Book Maze ages ago.
Thoughts: I started by reading the introduction to this volume because I couldn’t remember if this was supposed to be a book of straight-up mysteries written by Asimov or a book along the lines of his robot mysteries. It’s the latter, not surprisingly. There was, at one time, a contention that mysteries and science fiction weren’t compatible. Asimov tried hard to dispel that myth, with mixed results.
“The Key” begins on the Moon:
Karl Jennings knew he was going to die. He had a matter of hours to live and much to do.
In flashback, we learn that Jennings and another astronaut/geologist (sorry, selenologist), Strauss, had found a pieces of non-terrestrial spacecraft and a strange device. The device seems to allow an empathetic user, like Jennings, to be able to read the minds of those around him and manipulate their behavior. Jennings learns that Strauss favors the Ultras, a sect that wants to solve Earth’s over-population problem by simply eliminating 95% of it. Such a device in the hands of the Ultras could be devastating. The two have an altercation and Jennings is stabbed. He manages to get away and hide the device before he dies, leaving behind a clue to its whereabouts. The second half of the story takes place on Earth where H. Seton Davenport of the Terrestrial Bureau of Investigation tries to decipher the clue with the help of the eccentric scholar Wendell Urth.
A lot of older science fiction doesn’t hold up very well because being a futurist isn’t easy. The burdening population of Earth in this story (first published in 1966) is 6 billion people. We’re at 7.4 billion now and are doing sort of okay. The clue is a message written in coda on a 3×5 card, found inside the glove of Jennings space suit. The card is filmed and broadcasted to Earth.
Solving the mystery, deciphering the message on the card, comes down to science knowledge gymnastics, which the characters indulge in. It isn’t terribly specialized knowledge, but you’d have to have a pretty decent background in physics and astronomy to manage as a reader. This is the fourth (of four) stories in the volume to feature Wendell Urth
About the Author: Isaac Asimov was one of the most prolific authors ever and had a very wide background of knowledge. His birthday was observed on the second of January. It seemed like fate that I had drawn an Asimov story for my first Deal Me In of the year, but Asimov himself would probably prefer that I examine that further: Asimov’s Mysteries is one whole suit for Deal Me In; it was a one in four chance that I’d pick one of his stories.
Is This Your Card?
I feel like I’ve shared this video before. I possibly have but it’s a good one and a good way to start the year.