By in Sci Fi & Paranormal

Science Fiction Short Story Review: "Service with a Smile" by Charles L. Fortenay

Alice, Thera, Betsy and Marguerite survived the crash of their spaceship on this little planet. An atmospheric trap drew the ship down and a magnetic layer prevents a radio message from getting out. The women are trapped.

Herbert, the robot sees to all their needs. Almost all their needs. He found a silver deposit pounded out a silver tray. He found sand and blew glass in the shape of a martini glass. He found chemicals on the planet and made fine martinis. No one asked for martinis. Sometimes Herbert filled needs or wants before the woman asked. What the women want most is a man, and that, Herbert can’t make—at least not a living one.

He created a luxurious house for the women, not far from where the wrecked ship and the bones for their former shipmates bleached in the sun. Only the booktapes and musictapes had been salvaged. Everything else was manufactured somehow by Herbert.

One day as Herbert is working to get the house air conditioned, another ship crashes. The single pilot, a man, lives, but he’s unconscious.

The ending is not a surprise.

What was a surprise to me in this short tale was the misogyny. The women live in the lap of luxury with a robot butler taking care of them. One of them is a former “space nurse.” They know they can’t get home, can’t even communicate with home. Are they educated? Why were they sent into space to begin with? The same story would not work with four men lolling around, drinking martinis, snapping and ignoring the robot butler Herbert while bemoaning their lack of women. It’s not as funny, is it?

Author Charles L. Fontenay was a journalist and science fiction writer. Additionally, he wrote a biography a New Deal era politician Estes Kefauver and held a third-degree black belt in tae kwon do.


Title: “Service with a Smile” first published in If June 1958

Author: Charles L. Fontenay (1917-2007)

Source: ISFDB



Last review: “The King of Ypres” by John Buchan

Last science fiction review: “Tree, Spare the Woodman” by David Dryfoos



© 2015 Denise Longrie

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Feisty56 wrote on August 20, 2015, 8:51 PM

Considering it was 1958 when the story was written -- you know, just a few years before "Ozzie and Harriet," "The Donna Reed Show," and "Leave It to Beaver," the story doesn't seem out of the ordinary. When "they" say, "We've come a long way, baby," this attitude is part of that to which they refer.

msiduri wrote on August 20, 2015, 10:27 PM

I have to shake my head. The story is only a little older than I am.

Feisty56 wrote on August 20, 2015, 10:49 PM

The same for me - I was born in 1956. When you look back to that era and where we are as a society today, there has been much progress in many areas. We have a long way to go, but we have started the journey.

CalmGemini wrote on August 21, 2015, 1:03 AM

I have not read this story and I do not want to read it .I don't think I will like this one.

CoralLevang wrote on August 21, 2015, 1:40 AM

What I find fascinating is how history certainly affects our art at any given moment in time.

msiduri wrote on August 21, 2015, 8:39 AM

It made me angry. I wanted to find Mr. Fortenay and give him a good dressing down. Since he's been gone for a while, that might be a bit hard, but— I don't blame you for not wanting to read it.

msiduri wrote on August 21, 2015, 8:43 AM

I think, too, in particular the 1960s and 70s were such times of major social change that almost nothing that came for is that same as anything after. We who were born in the 50s but don't remember much of them tend to forget that.

msiduri wrote on August 21, 2015, 8:48 AM

1959. Everybody smoked. Everybody drank martinis. Only poor women or women who couldn't land a man worked. Women generally stopped working when they got married, certainly when they had children. And interestingly enough, statistically, women married younger than they just about any time in American history, IIRC.