Science Fiction Short Story Review: "Vital Ingredient" by Charles V. De Vet
This is another in the series of “It Came from the Pulps!” where I review science fiction short stories that were originally published in the pulp magazines of mid-20th century. Many of these have become available in electronic form as free downloads, particularly from Project Gutenberg, or for a low price.
When Macker returns to the spaceship after exploring the countryside around the landing area, he finds the crew has managed to capture a small bipedal native. It wasn’t much of a challenge, really since the creature was built for an environment that required much less speed than the earthmen are used to. It has a sort of basic speech that they’re still figuring out, but can communicate its anguish (to the reader, at least) with whistles and facial contortions.
Remm demonstrates the native’s will to escape by having the crew withdraw to one side of the room while leaving the open portal in view of the creature. In slow motion, it crawls from the box and heads for the door. Its feet are still striving, as if swimming in air, when Remm picks it up.
Remm, who brought it back, acknowledges that he must have broken on of the little being’s legs in a couple of places. They cannot bring it back to earth as it will be crushed by earth’s atmosphere. They have the technology to repair the broken bones, though and decided to do so, though the bones will be stronger than anything on the planet. They’re doing a good thing, right?
This is a chilling little tale about the destructiveness of callousness and ignorance, but also how even congratulatory good intentions can go terribly wrong. It is a moral tale cleverly wrapped up in a science fiction story. Nevertheless, it does not hit the reader like a hammer. The writing itself is spare. One does not get a good glimpse of the world of the creature, or even the spaceship of the earthlings, but these are incidental to the message.
Title: “Vital Ingredient” first published in If July 1952
Author: Charles V. De Vet (1911-1997)
©2015 Denise Longrie
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