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)
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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