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* NoBiochemicalBarriers: There are biospheres which aren't based on protein or even carbon, but the sapient species are all similar enough than an alien wanting to survive on human food only needs to bring some vitamin pills along.

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First published in ''Magazine/GalaxyScienceFiction'' (May 1951 issue), by Creator/IsaacAsimov, and later in the French translation (issue #19, June 1955). Creator/HoraceGold, editor of the magazine, would include it in next year's anthology, ''Literature/GalaxyReaderOfScienceFiction''. This {{Novelette}} is a ScienceFiction story overlapping with the SpyFiction genre, a GenreMashup that Dr Asimov would repeat several times over, although he grouped them in the more general MysteryFiction genre.

Dr Rose Smollett is informing her husband, Drake, that they will be hosting Dr Harg Tholan, an alien visitor from Hawkin's Planet, while he conducts a few Earth-based experiments. Drake doesn't appreciate opening his home to the Hawkinsite, so Rose placates him by giving him the information he demands about the alien doctor. She understands that policemen are naturally suspicious and isn't offended.

The first time all three are together, Mr Smollett has just arrived home for dinner. He exchanges polite pleasantries with Dr Tholan, and the three share a vegetarian meal together. Dinner conversation revolves around the alien; why he needs cyanide to breathe and what he studies. After dinner, Dr Tholan requests to visit a police station in order to see the human version, especially the missing persons department.

[[TheLawOfConservationOfDetail Each of these conversations were important]]; the [[HumansAreSpecial unique nature of humanity]], as defined by this story, makes them the symbiotic [[DoubleMeaningTitle hosts to parasites]]. These [[EnergyBeings creatures of mental activity]] derive nourishment from the mental activities of other creatures, and can exert a limited amount of influence over their hosts.

Once this information is drawn out of Dr Tholan, Mr Smollett kills him and explains to his wife why the parasitism has gone on too long; the human race is too adapted to the creature, living a symbiotic relationship where the absence of the creature causes cancer. Except that [[ConvictionByCounterfactualClue Dr Smollett knows that's wrong]]; cancer affects human children as well as fish that would otherwise grow the same way the aliens do. She [[ShoutOut quotes]] a line from Literature/TheBible,

"Hostess" has been adapted into [[Recap/XMinusOne080 an episode]] of ''Radio/XMinusOne'', and reprinted several times; ''{{Magazine/Urania}}'' (published as a [[SerialNovel weekly serial]]; issues 33-36, from 30 January to 28 February 1954), ''Literature/NightfallAndOtherStories'' (1969), ''{{Magazine/Urania}}'' (issue #568, June 1971), ''Literature/RobotDreams'' (1986), ''Literature/OtherWorldsOfIsaacAsimov'' (1987), ''Literature/TheCompleteStoriesVolume1'' (1990), ''Literature/TalesOfScienceFictionFeaturingXMinusOne'' (2004).
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!!"Hostess" provides examples of:
* AlienBlood: The aliens from Hawkin's Planet are yellow-coloured, six-legged space cows. Their blood is clear, and Dr Asimov goes into detail, explaining how the lack of metal in their bloodstream makes it colourless.
* ConvictionByCounterfactualClue: Mr Smollett, who works as a sort of "police officer" for the [[GovernmentAgencyOfFiction World Security Board]], claims that humans have adapted too much to the [[EnergyBeing non-physical]] parasite/[[MindVirus virus]] to survive, citing cancer. InUniverse, Dr Smollett realizes that his claim is bunk, because while cancer is unrestrained growth (as opposed to the decay caused by the parasite), cancer occurs even in creatures which aren't hosts to the parasite. She's a biologist while he isn't.
* DoubleMeaningTitle: The title refers to Dr Rose Smollett, whose third-person perspective forms the basis of this story. The word "host" (or the feminine form, "hostess") refers to someone who is responsible for supplying hospitality to a visitor, or to an organism in which a parasite or commensal organism lives. She is currently hosting Dr Tholan, and all humans are host to a race of [[MindVirus parasitic]] creatures [[EnergyBeings with no physical form]].
* EnergyBeings: A parasitic intelligence, who has evolved away all physical traits, has supposedly evolved in a symbiotic relationship with human beings, making [[HumansAreSpecial humans the only species in the universe]] who dreams, as well as the only species that dies of old age.
* GenreSavvy: Dr Smollett references "Twentieth Century spy novels and costume dramas" in her decision to [[SpyFiction conduct an investigation]] of her interstellar guest and her husband.
* GovernmentAgencyOfFiction: The World Security Board, who employs Mr Smollett as "a minor government official", but is more often described as a policeman. This implies his job is actually a secret agent, possibly an intelligence analyst.
* HaveYouToldAnyoneElse: Dr Tholan is shot as soon as he confirms that his theory (which Earth considers dangerous for humanity) has not been shared with anyone else. [[JustifiedTrope Justified in this case]], because the methods that the scientist used to obtain the results are, among his people, considered as horrible as those of the Nazis. Also, he's fully aware he'll be shot... it's just that the alternative [[CruelAndUnusualDeath is far worse]].
* HumansAreSpecial: Out of five known sapient species, only humans stop growing after reaching maturity. Only humans dream while they sleep. Only humans develop missing persons. Only humans die from old age. Dr Tholan assumes these facts must be linked, and comes to Earth to investigate the connections. He believes it is because a sixth intelligence also exists, one that evolved on Earth alongside humanity, as EnergyBeings that feed on mental activity (dreams are a symptom of their feeding). Mr Smollett tells his wife that they are symbiotic, not parasitic, but [[ConvictionByCounterfactualClue his evidence doesn't support his reasoning]].
* HumansThroughAlienEyes: The four-legged alien, Dr Tholan, thinks we look like we should fall over (he is a HeavyWorlder, and on his planet we would have fallen over).
* TheLawOfConservationOfDetail: The first night's dinner with [[MinimalistCast all three characters]] implies several topics of discussion, but the only topics shown on-screen all become highly relevant to the conclusion of the plot.
* MindVirus: In this story, humans are infected by a parasite that exists in their mind (it having adapted to not even needing a body). Dr Tholan speculates that many of humanity's [[HumansAreSpecial unusual traits]] are caused by the existence of the parasite, including death by old age (other species simply live until accident or disease).
* OneWordTitle
* OrwellianRetcon: The version of this story as it originally appeared in ''Magazine/GalaxyScienceFiction'' had mindless pseudo-genes infecting humanity. During some of the republications, it was edited into a [[EnergyBeing species with no physical body]] that [[MindVirus infected humans and aliens alike]]. When Dr Asimov republished this story for ''Literature/NightfallAndOtherStories'', he removed the last line:
-->''Galaxy'' final lines: "She had finally learned why Drake had married her. Not a conjugal relationship-- Conjugation."
-->''Nightfall and Other Stories'' final lines: "She had finally learned why Drake had married her."
* SerialNovel: This {{Novelette}} was published in four parts when it was translated into the Italian magazine ''{{Magazine/Urania}}''.
* ShamefulSourceOfKnowledge: Dr Tholan found the cause for an epidemic on his world, but his method of collecting evidence would be considered Nazi-like for his species. Therefore, he came to Earth in search of further evidence that wouldn't be considered unethical.
* ShoutOut: Dr Smollett's internal narration quotes from the ''Literature/BookOfGenesis'', saying the serpent of Eden "was more subtil than any beast of the field." She compares the [[EnergyBeing non-physical parasite]] of this story to Literature/TheBible, wondering if the myth was an {{Allegory}} for the parasite that causes "death by old age" in humans.
* SpyFiction: Dr Smollett, aggravated by her husband's decision to withhold information from her, decides to attempt some [[AmateurSleuth amateur investigations]] of her own, [[InvokedTrope imitating]] Twentieth Century [[GenreSavvy spy novels]].
* UltraTerrestrials: Old age is the result of a MindVirus, carried by either a set of mindless pseudo-genes, or a [[EnergyBeings parasitic mind]] ([[OrwellianRetcon it had been republished with a few edits]]). The parasite is compared with the snake from the Garden of Eden.
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