[originally posted here at Castalia House]
“Short Reviews” are my reviews of short science fiction stories. Sometimes the reviews themselves are short, but not always. I started off covering some 70s Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, but have moved to focusing on older pulps (Planet Stories right now). The purpose of this series is let people know what kinds of stories were being told in the pulps and share just how varied and awesome they are. I’m very excited about bringing this series to a wider audience at Castalia House. For those interested in previous installments, they can be found here.
Grifters’ Asteroid appeared in the May 1943 issue of Planet Stories. The version reviewed was the 1953 reprint in the Fall issue of Tops in Science Fiction where it is attributed to Gold’s pseudonym Harold C. Fosse.
What could be more enjoyable that watching cons get conned? Watching cons get conned on an alien world, of course! Grifters’ Asteroid takes the classic story of conmen trying to get the better of each other and puts it in the backwaters of out space.
Joe and Harvey are snake-oil salesmen who have been pushing their putrid panacea all across the solar system and at last found themselves in a lonely saloon on Planetoid 42, a tiny rock with a lovely view of Jupiter. After quenching their thirst and taking a moment to gawk and be amazed at the proprietor’s six-armed alien servant, Joe and Harvey get the bill:
“If you gents ‘re finished at the bar, your drinks’ll be forty buckos.”
Harvey grinned puzzledly. “We didn’t take any whiskey.”
“Might as well. Water’s five buck’s a glass. Liquor’s free with every chaser.”
Having been called every kind of crook in the book, Angus Johnson, saloon proprietor, mayor, justice of the peace, official recorder and fire chief of Planetoid 42, explains that first of all, he doesn’t get much business on the tiny worldlet, and secondly, the water tastes awful so has to be brought in buckets to be purified. Harvey admits the explanation puts “a different complexion on what seemed at first to be an unconscionable middle-man between Nature and man’s thirst.”