Short Story: Misfit by Robert A. Heinlein

Photo of Robert A. Heinlein from Imagination, 1953 (scan of original magazine), digitally enhanced, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

I love reading and writing short stories. A few years ago I came up with the idea of writing a nonfiction article on the five most influential pre-1950 computers in science fiction. In researching that list of potential computers, I read a number of books and short stories. E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” topped off the list. It left me speechless and amazed. I wrote a review about that story last week. You can find it HERE.

The second short story on the list is “Misfit” by Robert A. Heinlein. In the weeks ahead I will share some of the science fiction gems I unearthed or rediscovered.

“Misfit” is a science fiction short story by Robert A. Heinlein. It was originally titled Cosmic Construction Corps before being renamed by the editor John W. Campbell. The November 1939 issue of “Astounding Science Fiction” first published the story. One of the earliest of his Future History stories, it was later included in the collections Revolt in 2100 and The Past Through Tomorrow.

The story concerns Andrew Jackson Libby (here nicknamed Pinky, for his red hair, but later nicknamed Slipstick), a boy from Earth with extraordinary mathematical ability but meager education. He found few opportunities on Earth. He joins the Cosmic Construction Corps, a future military-led version of the Civilian Conservation Corps (remember it from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal?) employing out-of-work youth to colonize the Solar System. With a group of other inexperienced young men, he is assigned to a ship traveling to the asteroid belt where their task is to move an asteroid into a more convenient orbit between Mars and Earth.

Pinky comes to the Captain’s attention during the process of blasting holes in the asteroid for rocket engines. Pinky realizes that a mistake has been made in calculating the size of the charge, preventing a catastrophic blast.

He is assigned to the ship’s astrogation computer. During the trip back to Earth, the computer malfunctions and Libby take over, performing all the complex calculations in his head. The asteroid is settled successfully into its final orbit.

“Slipstick” Libby became one of Heinlein’s recurring characters, and would later appear in several works associated with Lazarus Long, among them Methuselah’s Children and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.

The short story includes one of the first examples of the phrase “space marine”.

Sources: Misfit by Robert A. Heinlein and the Wikipedia article on “Misfits.” Photo: Imagination, 1953 (scan of original magazine), digitally enhanced, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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