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Literature / Does a Bee Care?

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First published in If (June 1957 issue), by Isaac Asimov, this Short Story is about the bizarre life-cycle of an alien using the Earth as a nursery.

Thornton Hammer, a mathematician, is the unofficial leader of a project where a corporation is sending an unmanned rocket in a fly-by of The Moon. He's in charge of resolving disputes, like the one between Theodore Lengyel and Kane. Lengyel is frustrated by the man, who never seems to do anything useful for the project, which Hammer rebuffs by claiming Kane is his Good Luck Charm. When Kane is nearby, he has flashes of insight that makes the project go faster.

Then, we learn about Kane, and why he's so lucky for Hammer to have him around. Why he really hangs around Hammer and subtly inspires him with new designs.

"Does a Bee Care?" has been republished several times: Other Worlds Other Times (1969), Buy Jupiter And Other Stories (1975), Urania (issue #697, May 1976), Star Streak Stories Of Space (1979), and Robot Dreams Collection (1986).

"Does a Bee Care?" contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The story, written in 1957, concerns a rocket built for a Lunar flyby by a private corporation.
  • The Ageless: The alien has been living with humanity for eight thousand years, without appearing to age beyond a young adult. They are never actually identified as immortal, but they don't know enough about their species to say how long they actually live.
  • Alien Among Us: Kane is a member of an alien race whose life-cycle involves being deposited on planets as an ovum, and when they hatch into their larval form, they take the shape of the dominant intelligent life, and hide amoung them until they develop spaceflight. Once they get into space, they Metamorphose again, to their adult form; a Space Whale.
  • Animal Motifs: This story makes constant references to animals and their instinct, acting as metaphors for an alien, as well as for the ship. Comparisons such as spiders and architecture, wasps and ornithology, salmon and cartography, not to mention the title question.
    The ship began as a metal skeleton. Slowly a shining skin was layered on without and odd-shaped vitals were crammed within.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Kane has influenced pretty much the whole development of physics and engineering on Earth with his Psychic Powers, working on scientists like Newton and Einstein and Thornton Hammer so as to help Earth get space travel. He's taken the form of a human since it's the most intelligent species on Earth. It's all part of his instinctual drive for reproduction, and he doesn't even understand what he's done.
  • Beneath Notice: Kane instinctively knows ways to keep himself unnoticed. The given examples are carrying a wrench and picking up leaves/trash. This is important to prevent people from noticing that he's The Ageless, and has been around for centuries.
    Protective coloration consisted of little things, really - like carrying the wrench.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: The story describes an alien whose life-cycle begins as an ovum on a planet, hatching into the shape of the general population, infiltrating it and influencing the growth of science and technology. Once they create a space-capable rocket, the alien sneaks aboard and when they are in outer space, they transform into their adult form; a Space Whale, which will fertilize another planet. The kicker is that all this is done unconsciously on instinct.
    The ovum spilt him forth at length and he took the shape of a man and lived among men and protected himself against men. And his one purpose was to arrange to have men travel along a path that would end with a ship and within the ship a hole and within the hole, himself.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: A Perspective Flip comic book adaptation focusing on Thornton Hammer was published by Gold Leaf Comics in 1976, appearing in Questar: Illustrated Science Fiction Classics and issue #4 of Starstream: Adventures in Science Fiction. There are differences in plot.
  • E.T. Gave Us Wi-Fi: A larval alien, left on Earth, guides human technological development through most of history until it has reached the point where he can stow away aboard an early unmanned satellite and thus make his way home. He's no more concerned about where Mankind goes after he leaves than a bee cares about the flower it has just pollinated.
  • Finale Title Drop: The last line of the story compares Starfish Aliens to bees, and humanity to a flower.
    Does a bee care what has happened to a flower when the bee has done and gone its way?
  • Genetic Memory: A Starfish Alien has been left on Earth, and its ability to hide among the humans and "inspire" them to build a rocket to outer space works entirely by instinct. Kane doesn't know how he even does this stuff, it just comes naturally to him. He even "remembers" where home is.
  • Good Luck Charm: Thornton Hammer considers Kane a good-luck charm, unaware of how he manages to be inspired by the man's presence. Kane has a Psychic Power that he uses intuitively to get the people around him to advance their science far enough to design a spacecraft.
  • Intro-Only Point of View: The story starts by focusing on Thornton Hammer, director of the project. Once it establishes that Hammer sees Kane as his Good Luck Charm, the story changes view to describe Kane's thoughts.
  • The Muse: Thornton Hammer considers Kane his Good Luck Charm, believing that he's giving him loads of ideas just by being there. He's not wrong. It's a psychic power he has that does it, and did it to loads of scientists in the past, inspiring Lise Meitner, Einstein and Newton.
  • Metamorphosis: This story includes an alien life-cycle, where an ovum is deposited on a planet, which hatches into a figure similar to the dominant intelligent life. During this larval stage, it waits until space travel is invented, where they stow away and once in space, they transform into their adult form; a Space Whale.
  • Only One Name: Kane doesn't have a last name.
  • Psychic Powers: Kane has an innate ability to inspire the people around him. This inspiration works better if the person is smarter, and he doesn't have a way to consciously control it. It should be noted that the word 'psychic' never appears in the story. This ability is a racial trait that helps him to encourage humanity to develop space travel, where he can Metamorphose into his adult form.
  • Questioning Title?
  • Shipless Faster-Than-Light Travel: At the end of the story, the alien transforms into a Space Whale with the ability to travel at "inconceivable speeds" as it goes home.
    The adult Kane fled from the human flesh that had protected the larva, and fled the ship, too. It hastened onward, at inconceivable speeds, toward home, from which someday it, too, might set off on wanderings through space to fertilize some planet with its own.
  • Space Whale: Kane's adult form is a space-based creature with innate Faster-Than-Light Travel.
    The adult Kane fled from the human flesh that had protected the larva, and fled the ship, too. It hastened onward, at inconceivable speeds, toward home, from which someday it, too, might set off on wanderings through space to fertilize some planet with its own.
  • Starfish Aliens: Kane has Psychic Powers and a strange life-cycle, where he initially appears as a member of the most intelligent species on the planet he is on, inspires them to reach space in a rocket, then transforms into a Space Whale.
  • Tap on the Head: When sneaking aboard the rocket, Kane whacks someone on their head with his wrench, with the knowledge that the person they've just hurt will wake up in five minutes without any injury or even noticing that they were unconscious. It is implied that Psychic Powers are in play to explain the lack of injury.
    Kane straightened and his vague eyes stared at the speaker. He lifted his wrench and brought it down on the speaker's head lightly. The man who was struck (and who had made no effort to ward off the blow) dropped, partly from the effect of the blow.
    Kane let him lie there, without concern. The man would not remain unconscious for long, but long enough to allow Kane to wriggle into the hole. When the man revived he would recall nothing about Kane or about the fact of his own unconsciousness. There would simply be five minutes taken out of his life that he would never find and never miss.