Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

‘To Bring In The Steel’ by Donald Kingsbury

with 6 comments

This story was published in Analog, reprinted by Terry Carr in his Best Science Fiction Of The Year and then again here in this supposedly definitive hard SF anthology. In Canadian Science Fiction And Fantasy by David Ketterer the story is briefly acknowledged as being “about maneuvering asteroids into Earth orbit and refining their ore.” Brian M. Stableford’s Science Fact And Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia goes further to describe it as a revamped and serious treatment of asteroid mining. Given this you might think you could guess the sort of story Kingsbury has written. You would probably be wrong.

A Heinleinian competent man with exceptional engineering skills and zero social skills is the second-in-command of an ore asteroid that is being refined as it is flown back to Earth. So far, so predicatable and there is indeed technical waffle about different types of fuel, the sort of nuts and bolts that make up hard SF. This has precious little to do with the actual story though. Instead the story opens with Mr Competent learning of his wife’s suicide. Since he hates and fears women this doesn’t bother him, however, it does leave the question of what to do with the seven-year-old daughter back on Earth who he has never seen. In an attempt to prove to himself that nothing is beyond his competency – and despite hating and fearing children as much as women – he decides to have her imported. (Despite being repeatedly told that the asteroid is an unforgiving environment where death lurks round every corner, there are plenty of children on board.) First though, he needs to put it to a vote of all the crew since apparently rigid hierarchies don’t work in such high-pressure hermetic environments and instead “village democracy” is much more preferable. This is, after all, how the navies of the world operate their submarine fleets… Anyway, they vote no on the grounds of, you know, the hatred and fear. He goes over their heads to the big cheeses on Earth – democracy in action! – and requests a governess.

This is where the story gets really weird because he doesn’t want any old nanny, no, he wants the most famous prostitute in California to be his nanny. This is not because he has a chronic case of blue balls but because he wants to deploy this whore of Babylon as a timebomb in the sealed community that had the temerity to oppose him. The narrative perspective slips from him to her and with it any hope that Kingsbury had been satirising Heinlein. No, he means it, although what exactly he means isn’t clear.

The story was published in 1978 when Kingsbury was knocking on fifty but he comes across as much older, baffled by these young people of today and hopeless mired in the Fifties. The big wigs apparently think nothing of My Competent’s request. What is a child’s welfare compared to satisfying the incredibly expense whims of a top manager? Perhaps they were also influenced by other factors: one of them physically “staggers back” when confronted with the “firmness of her boobs”. Kingsbury’s whore – who happily refers to herself thus – is foolish, easily manipulated, in love with her manager despite the fact he beats her, financially illeterate and a fake. Obviously she takes the job. In one frankly disgusting scene when they arrive at the it is made clear that she has taught the seven-year-old gain her father’s love my flirting with him. Needless to say she falls in love with Mr Competent at the end of the story having first proved her competency to him by saving him from a decidedly undramatic accident involving a floating mirror. Hard SF is no place to be a woman.

Quality: *
Hardness: ***

Written by Martin

25 May 2010 at 11:01

6 Responses

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  1. I’m almost disappointed this story doesn’t appear in The Hard SF Renaissance – which is the only hard sf anthology I own. Having said that, looking at the TOC for The Hard SF Renaissance, it seems Hartwell & Cramer still have no clue what hard sf is as the anthology includes plenty of space opera. But then their The Space Opera Renaissance includes some military sf…

    iansales

    25 May 2010 at 11:13

  2. I’m glad you are reading ’em so I never, ever, have to

    Alison

    25 May 2010 at 17:17

  3. […] Of Earth’ by Arthur C. Clarke ‘Prima Belladonna’ by JG Ballard ‘To Bring In The Steel’ by Donald Kingsbury ‘Gomez’ by C.M. Kornbluth ‘Waterclap’ by Isaac Asimov ‘Weyr […]

  4. […] the only thing I’d read by Kingsbury that I had read was this. Expectations were further lowered by the fact it is a sharecrop story, part of the Man-Kzin Wars […]

  5. Kingsbury’s best work, by far, is “Courtship Rite”

    Jonathan Sheik

    22 April 2019 at 07:02

  6. Did we read the same story? I first read this story more than 30 years ago, and I’ve been telling everyone how awesome it is ever since.

    Meddrick Kell does not hate and fear women. He apparently quite likes women. (How else would he get a marriage and a seven year old daughter?) He just doesn’t understand women. Far more comfortable with things that with people, he’s decided to be mostly passive when it comes to relationships. He is, however, offended when the colony denies his request and, being someone who the company views better indulged than offended, they agree to his request for a governess for his child, and for that specific governess.

    Lisa Maria Sorenti does not happily tell anybody that she’s a whore. She quite dislikes the fact that she’s a whore. If she felt comfortable stepping out of the velvet-lined cage that her pimp has made for her, then she’d be gone already, but all she really knows how to do is make men happy by being a party girl. When her pimp is removed from the picture by the HR guy (whose name escapes me–I was looking for this story to see if I could find a copy on-line when I stumbled across your blog post) she quite happily agrees to his terms because it’s a step along the path to becoming a person who is not a whore.

    Surrounded by the sort of people that Ms Sorenti has wanted to be her entire life (people who do real things and make what Ms Sorenti considers real contributions to society) she still doesn’t have a clue how to begin down that path until a minor crisis triggered by an offhand comment Lisa Maria makes brings it all to a head. When Meddrick Kell realizes that he knows this path well and can show her how to go along it, Lisa Maria Sorenti starts to grow into the person that she has always wanted to be.

    That competence results in her ably saving both Meddrick’s life and the colony to help them bring in the steel.

    Cybersmythe

    29 May 2020 at 14:49


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