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Literature / I'm in Marsport Without Hilda

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First published in Venture Science Fiction Magazine (November 1957 issue), by Isaac Asimov. This Science Fiction Short Story is a "stale beer" style of Spy Fiction. An opportunity for a tete-a-tete arises, but a Special Agent never gets the vacation they hope for.

Max tells the story of when he visited the Mars space station to see his girlfriend Flora without his wife knowing. It was a three-day layover where he'd be waiting until the next shuttle back to Earth, but he planned to spend it mostly in 0.4 gravity with her. However, his boss had other ideas.


Max is forced to interview three men experiencing a three-hour layover, with the threat of death against leaving. One of which is smuggling drugs, and all of which are untouchable unless Max finds them actually breaking the law. He assumes it'll be easy enough, as the two innocents will have taken a drug that makes them talk in gibberish, and the guilty one can't for fear he'll randomly talk about them or give away the drugs.

All three arrive clearly displaying the effects of the drug. It then takes three hours for Max to figure out which one is faking the effects.

"I'm in Marsport Without Hilda" has been adapted into an audiobook by Ziggurat Productions and narrated by Jim Gallant. This story has been reprinted several times; Nine Tomorrows (1959), Galaxy (issue #53, October 1962), Asimovs Mysteries (1968), Rod Serlings Other Worlds (1978), The Best Science Fiction Of Isaac Asimov (1986), The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990), and Lovers And Other Monsters (1992).


"I'm in Marsport Without Hilda" contains examples of:

  • A Girl in Every Port: Max is telling a story about when he was in Marsport without his wife, but struggled with an urgent case preventing him from spending time with an old girlfriend.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: The main character works for the Galactic Service, and has a Class A rank within the organization. They operate as federal agents rather than a police force.
  • Hold Your Hippogriffs: To indicate the futuristic setting, the Character Narrator uses space-based metaphors for description.
    I went past that desk like Halley's Comet skimming the Solar Corona.
  • Just for Pun: After Max says "Rise, Gentlemen.", it's implied that he sees Ferrucci's erection.
  • No Full Name Given: Max, the Character Narrator, is only referred to by his first name. Hilda, Max's wife, also has no last name (because that would imply his own last name). Flora, his girlfriend, is referred to only by her first name as well. It would seem as if all the characters were going to be given only one name, but then Rog Crinton, Max's boss, shows up and tells him to investigate Edward Harponaster, Joaquin Lipsky, and Andiamo Ferrucci.
  • Orwellian Retcon: When this story was republished for Nine Tomorrows, it had to be redited (phrases like "ribald stories" were switched for "about a girl", while lines like "Chances are they would ask me for [her] phone number." were omitted entirely.). The original text reappears in Azimovs Mysteries.
  • Race Against the Clock: Between 8pm and 11pm, three space travellers will be within a spaceport's jurisdiction. Max is expected to identify which of them is carrying illegally modified Spaceoline, and all three are immune to normal search-and-seizure rules. They can prosecute the actual guilty party, but trying to search an innocent man will give them cause to publicly ruin Max and his organization.
  • Red Alert: Rog Crinton, one of Max's bosses, invokes this term, claiming that a crisis trumps Max's vacation. Max is the only qualified agent on Mars, and he only has three hours to deduce which of three space travellers is carrying illegally modified Spaceoline.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The three industrialists that Max is investigating are all very wealthy and very powerful. The story establishes that the average man could be searched for illegal drugs due to the suspicion/evidence already collected, but it's made clear that without direct evidence of guilt, any of them could use their planetary-level of wealth to discredit him and his department, marking him as effectively dead meat. He's got to finger only the right one.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: All of Max's efforts to visit Flora are wasted, because right when he's on his way, his wife, Hilda, finally appears.
  • Shout-Out: Under the apparent effects of Spaceoline, Ferrucci mentions "Trip the light fantastic", which is an old reference to Comus, by John Milton.
  • Something Else Also Rises: Frustrated with his attempts to determine which one of three men are faking the effects of a drug, Max gives them a graphical description of the low gravity sex he was missing out on. When the alert comes on that the Space Eater had docked, Max says "Rise, Gentlemen." Because Max then immediately identifies who was faking the effects, it's implied that the Raging Stiffie was only apparent when the three men stood up.
  • Space Madness: One of the premises of this story is that people can't travel in space unless they've had a certain medicine, which makes them harmlessly babble as a side-effect.
  • Space "X": Just before arriving in Marsport (a port in orbit around Mars), the main character got a spacegram (telegram, in space) that his wife, Hilda, wouldn't be there to meet him. After he arrives, though, he has to find contraband Spaceoline (a Fantastic Drug to cure space-sickness)).
  • "Stuck at the Airport" Plot: Max has a layover at the space station around Mars for three days while he waits for the next shuttle to take him to Earth. He plans to spend them in Flora's apartment, but Rog Crinton has a job for him. He must investigate three untouchably rich corporate executives while they're having their own layover between 8pm and 11pm local time.
  • Title Drop: The title comes from a line spoken by Max to an old girlfriend he's trying to meet up with again for hugging in 0.4 gravities.
  • Video Phone: Max uses a video booth, which is a public video phone box that costs more than sending a spacegram. He gets in contact with an old ex-girlfriend because he has a few days away from his wife and wants to relive old memories.
  • Word-Salad Humor: The Fantastic Drug in this story causes people to make free-word associations, but doesn't impair their memory.
  • You Just Told Me: The main character, a detective, is trying to figure out which of several people in the room is a drug smuggler. All of the innocent suspects are currently loopy and speaking stream-of-consciousness gibberish, because they were given a drug to prevent space sickness, and the guilty party is faking it. Unable to figure out who is guilty, the detective, out of frustration, starts telling them about the hot date he would have had, if he wasn't stuck interviewing them. The guilty party's "reaction" when they stand up gives him away.
  • Zero-G Spot: Flora keeps her apartment at 0.4 of earth's gravity because it makes hugging better.
    "[I]f you've ever held a girl in your arms at 0.4 gees, you need no explanation. If you haven't, explanations will do no good. I'm also sorry for you."narration by Max