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Literature / Blind Alley

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First published in Astounding Science Fiction (March 1945 issue), by Isaac Asimov. This Science Fiction Short Story is about a bureaucrat in charge of monitoring a more primitive alien race that escapes by the end of the story.

Loodun Antyok has just been assigned to be the Civilian Supervisor of Cepheus 18 by the Bureau for the Outer Provinces (BuOuProv). Cepheus 18 is the planet gifted to the only intelligent race of non-Humans discovered in the Milky Way. In this position, the scientists and humanists demand concessions from him.


First to demand is Tomor Zammo, head scientist of SciGroup 10. He demands the opportunity to investigate the biology and chemistry of the non-Humans. He's been able to experiment on a small group of the aliens, but not invasive enough or a large enough sample size. Antyok timidly suggests that the Bureau would be concerned about the zero non-Human birth rate for the past two years because it means they'd die out. So Zammo writes "Physiologic Characteristics of non-Humans of Cepheus 18, Part XI", indicating that a solution to the low non-Human birth rate is of high importance to SciGroup 10. However, BuOuProv responds that policy with regards to the non-Humans remains unchanged.

Second to demand is Gustiv Bannerd, news reporter with a strong Aurelion bias, who feels morally compelled to represent humanist ethics, such as granting the non-Humans every luxury it would be convenient to provide. Apparently, the previous report had been leaked to the public, despite its confidential nature. Banners wants to free them; let them roam freely rather than being trapped in a gilded cage. Antyok humbly suggests that decrying the scientists on humanitarian grounds would be less effective than pointing out their own inability to solve the low non-Human birth rate problem. So Bannerd writes two news reports, and Antyok sends copies to his superiors, pointing out the bad publicity likely to result. His superiors assign a AA importance to solving the birth rate problem.


A couple more gentle nudges later, and Zammo trains the non-Humans on flying spaceships while Banners convinces three hundred ships to land on Cepheus 18. While the Humans are distracted, the aliens steal the ships and fly off to the Magellanic Clouds. Zammo and Banners accuse Antyok of orchestrating their escape. The Civilian Supervisor, bureaucrat to the core, insists that they rely on evidence, not faulty memories, and claims that every step of this escape came from their official reports.

"Blind Alley" was republished several times; The Best Of Science Fiction (1946), Great Stories Of Space Travel (1963), The Early Asimov (1972), Urania (issue #630, October 1973), The Golden Age Of Science Fiction (1980), Isaac Asimov Presents: The Great Science Fiction Stories, Volume 7 (1945) (1982), Intergalactic Empires (1983), The Asimov Chronicles (1989), and The Complete Stories, Volume 2 (1992).


"Blind Alley" provides examples of:

  • Absent Aliens: Humans have explored nearly the entire Milky Way, and found a single species of sentient alien life. When given the chance, however, said aliens steal a human spaceship and fly off into the Magellanic Clouds, dwarf galaxies near the Milky Way, leaving humans alone in the galaxy.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The human's Galactic Empire would love to help the only known non-Human civilization ever found, although allowing them to join the Empire is out of the question. Instead, they're given a planet like a nature preserve, set aside for their use while the Humans study them.
  • Alternative Calendar: The memos in this story are dated from 12/977 G.E. until 1/978 G.E., making the system day/year since the founding of the Galactic Empire and taking place in under a year.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Loodun Antyok single-handedly rescues an entire species, which he does entirely by being extraordinarily competent at manipulating the rules of the Galactic Empire's labyrinthine bureaucracy, and manages to do it in a way that means he will escape any potential legal consequences for his actions.
  • Death by Despair: The unnamed aliens were rescued from a dying planet, and are now kept in a gilded prison, with every necessity provided for them with no effort. When Antyok is assigned a job that is effectively their warden, he realizes that they have collectively given up on life because they have lost all agency. They cannot meaningfully affect their future as long as they are tied to humanity. So Antyok subtly arranges things to allow the aliens to escape to an entirely different galaxy without getting into trouble himself.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Essays on History, by Ligurn Vier, provides an Epigraph for this story when it was published in The Early Asimov. This Fictional Document and author also appears in some early (1940s) publications of The Foundation Trilogy stories.
    "Only once in Galactic History was an intelligent race of non-Humans discovered—" — Essays on History, by Ligurn Vier
  • Epistolary Novel: This story mixes internal government memos between BuOuProv (Bureau for the Outer Provinces) and Loodun Antyok with a cinematic third-person perspective of events. The memo format was inspired by Dr Asimov's time in service to the Naval Aviation Experimental Station.
  • Fictional Religion: The Emperor is believes in a philosophy created by Aurelion. The context of the statements imply that it is a religion (one of the characters describes it as a cult). Those that wish to help the aliens on "humanitarian" grounds are all believers in the religion.
  • Galactic Superpower: The Human-only Galactic Empire covers thousands of inhabited planets and the entire Milky Way. The non-Humans are dismayed by the fact that they would need to travel to the Magellanic Clouds before they could expand outside of Human influence. Naturally, the Empire wouldn't allow them to do that.
  • Great Escape: The aliens have been kept in a gilded prison, with every necessity provided for them with no effort. When Antyok is assigned a job that is effectively their warden, he realizes that they have given up on life. He subtly arranges things so that are able to escape to an entirely different galaxy without getting into trouble himself.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: A seemingly fussy bureaucrat, Loodun Antyok, manages to free an alien species (thousands of people) kept under intense observation, all while making sure he comes up smelling like roses because he didn't do anything unless someone else told him to in an official report.
  • Production Throwback: The Bureau in charge of Cepheus 18 (the setting) is on Trantor, part of the Galactic Empire. This would normally be enough to establish the work being set in the timeframe of The Empire Novels, but Word of God from The Early Asimov makes it clear that "Blind Alley" takes place in a stand-alone setting.
  • Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: We have the scientists and their immoral practices represented by Tomor Zammo. We have religion and their desire for art and humanities represented by Gustiv Bannerd. However, this story chooses to Take a Third Option and Loodun Antyok tricks both of them into releasing the non-Humans with spaceships of their own. In this case, bureaucracy beats both!
  • Take a Third Option: Zammo and Bannerd are both trying to manipulate Antyok into doing things their way, but he insists on doing only what his superiors order from him. He occasionally voices a suggestion, but every action taken that led to the non-Humans escaping officially came from one of the other two.
  • Title Drop: In scene IV, the leader of the non-Humans uses the concept of a blind alley, one where you're closed off on three sides and the only way out is back the way you came, as an analogy for their current psychological condition. So they've decided to stop reproducing. A similar colloquialism is "dead end".