Hostess — Isaac Asimov

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Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) needs no introduction, for his name and work are iconic among SF fans worldwide. His short story “Nightfall,” written when he was not yet 22 and from an idea by Astounding Science Fiction editor John W. Campbell, Jr., was published in the September 1941 issue of ASF. Of the 26 stories chosen by the Science Fiction Writers of America for its 1970 collection The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1 (1929-1963), “Nightfall” was voted the most popular short story of all time.

Asimov’s insatiable curiosity led him to explore countless subjects, witness his writing or editing over 500 books on a wide and disparate variety of topics. His love of mysteries led him to become a member of “The Wolfe Pack,” the group named after author Rex Stout’s soft-boiled detective Nero Wolfe. He also was a long-time member of the all-male dinner and conversation club known as the Trap Door Spiders, which he used as the basis for a series of mysteries featuring the Black Widowers–a group of those devoted to solving mysteries.

Ten years after “Nightfall” saw print, Asimov would see “Hostess” published in the May 1951 issue of Galaxy (cover above right; note that the cover story “Mars Child” is written as by “Cyril Judd,” which was the pseudonym used by C. M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril for this serialized novel. It was retitled for its 1952 book publication as Outpost Mars).

Asimov’s novelette-length puzzler features a multi-appendaged alien doctor from one of the other four known intelligent species so-far discovered, arriving on Earth to do research into a disease to which humans are immune. Tholan, the alien doctor from Hawkin’s Planet, visits the home of research biologist Rose Smollett and her policeman husband Drake, to interview Rose about the “Inhibition Death,” which is afflicting the other intelligent species of the four non-human worlds. As in any good mystery there are more questions at the outset than answers, and here Asimov reveals carefully doled out drips and drabs of information which resolve themselves into a rather…odd theory of why humans are immune to the Inhibition Death.

What exactly is the Inhibition Death? Why are so many young, newlywed males opting to leave Earth (and their new brides) for the stars? Is marriage that awful? Is Drake more than the policeman he purports to be? Does Dr. Tholan know more than he lets on about the disease, and does he harbor a hidden agenda in regard to Earth?

For the answers to these questions you must listen now to Isaac Asimov’s “Hostess,” which X Minus One aired on December 12, 1956.

Play Time: 28:14