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Banks, Raymond E. – “The Littlest People” (1954)

11/21/2013

Takes place in a universe where the lumpenproletariat are shrunk down and frozen into dolls to be carted around the universe for sale as indentured servants. John Blake, son of the Personnel Director of an American-frontier-esque asteroid mining concern, accompanies his father into one of these ships on a sales call, and accidentally kidnaps one of the dolls. He knows he’ll get in trouble if he reveals his mistake, because his dad has a strict policy of not taking “the cute ones” as they only cause trouble. Yes, it is that kind of story.

John calls the “doll” Gleam and gives her to his sister to play with. Her leg is promptly broken, the pain wakes her up, and she writes him a note, as her voice is too tiny and high-pitched to understand, which reads: “Littl boy. You brok my leg. Give me bak to the Mployment.” He chooses not to do this:

My feeling of pity for all the little folk, embarrassment at their poor possessions and awkward ways and helplessness, centered on her-her shallow and vile being. As I chained her to the desk with a solid gold-plated watch-chain that night, I had accepted the problem of her existence.

To improve her lot in life, he has to educate and refine her, and when she doesn’t comply, he tortures her. She, in turn, tries to kill him. They hate and despise each other up until the time he goes to college and takes her along (on more prosperous planets, we find, the wealthy keep poor Little People as pets), where she fills a kind of Jiminy Cricket role, has grown to depend on being cared for as a pet and doesn’t want to be restored to her former size, and critiques and drives away all the women he dates. You can see where this is going, and indeed the story ends with him back on the asteroid, her restored to full size and arriving there as an educated schoolteacher, and the two of them falling in love.

The asteroid community is sketched out in a relatively interesting fashion, and the examination of labor relations and inequality that the beginning seemed to promise would have been a worthwhile pursuit, but this quickly took a drastic, awful turn.

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