Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
“The Talking Stone” by Isaac Asimov
Card picked: Two of Clubs
From: Asimov’s Mysteries
Larry Vernadsky is the lone current inhabitant of Station 5, a way-point between the asteroid belt and Earth. He’s a jack-of-all-trades engineer with “an isolation-sharpened bump of curiosity.” He is overly excited when the mining ship Robert Q docks needing a diagnostic and a few repairs. After a wrong turn on his way to the engine room, Vernadsky discovers that the three-man crew have a “pet” silicony—an intelligent, talking, mind-reading silicon-based life form that is often found on asteroids.* Except that this silicony is about ten times bigger than any previously known specimen. The crew of the Robert Q are tight-lipped about its providence and nonplussed by its uniqueness. Which gets Vernadsky with his bump of curiosity suspicious. In his spare time, he’s read the works of famous extraterrologist Wendell Urth on the subject of siliconies.
If siliconies need gamma radiation to live and grow, then this one must be from an asteroid with a lot of radioactive materials… And if the crew of the Robert Q is so secretive and a little hostile about their pet, then they might be…uranium smugglers! If Vernadsky can prove it and locate the asteroid, an Earth-side promotion could be his reward.
He proceeds to sabotage the smuggler’s ship and contact the authorities. Of course, an accident keeps it all from going smoothly. In the end, it’s the job of H. Seton Davenport to locate the asteroid, with Dr. Wendell Urth “helping” by pretty much continuously telling Davenport that he’s a dim-wit. This is the second story with these two characters, but in story chronology and in my reading chronology.
At several points in this story (and I fear this may occur more in Asimov’s mysteries), a character figures out something by following some thought process and then slyly alludes to it. But the reader has no idea what he’s** alluding to, at least not immediately. I see no good reason for this. Asimov could have shared the entire thought process and it wouldn’t have taken away from the plot of the story.
Better use of a silicon-based alien in a murder mystery? Gene L. Coon’s Star Trek episode “The Devil in the Dark,” written a decade later.
* This is actually a slang term for the creature. Asimov does provide a more scientific name for the species.
** Since I’ve recently had long conversations with Eric about he/she/they, I will point out that “he” is completely accurate. Asimov isn’t big on female characters.