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Literature / My Son, the Physicist

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This Short Story was first published in Scientific American (February 1962 issue), by Isaac Asimov. A Science Fiction Feghoot where Senior Physicist Gerard Cremona's mother comes to visit him at work, despite the fact that he's actually very busy right now.

Mrs Cremona was invited by her son to visit him at work on Thursday, but the entire building is in an uproar due to coming in contact with a missing Jovian expedition. Somehow they've ended up surviving four times as long as their mission profile planned for, and have arrived on Pluto.


Senior Physicist Cremona is deep in discussion with a general when his mother arrives, explaining the situation to him. Because Pluto is so far away, it will take six hours for a radio signal due to the lightspeed lag. His mother interrupts with a bit of simple wisdom that solves his problem and rests easy knowing that her little boy, despite being an important figure in the government and going grey due to age, is still willing to listen to his mother.

"My Son, the Physicist" was republished several times; The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (April 1963 issue), Signale Vom Pluto (1963), SF Horizons 1 (1968), Nightfall and Other Stories (1969), Urania (issue #570, 1971), The Best Science Fiction Of Isaac Asimov (1986), The Asimov Chronicles: Fifty Years of Isaac Asimov (1989), and The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990).


"My Son, the Physicist" contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: This story mentions Multivac, video-phones, stratowire, hair dye, and expeditions to Jupiter, but doesn't really establish how far into the future it was supposed to be. Considering that contemporary Science Fiction stories had solar system colonization happening in under a hundred years, this was supposed to be a near-future fiction.
  • Always a Child to Parent: Senior Physicist Gerard Cremona works in a government building, is known by everyone in the building, is introduced on-screen while talking with a general about a top secret project, and has greying hair. Despite this, his mother, the viewpoint character, still sees only her little boy. You can hear her pride in him from the title alone.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: When the mother describes how women are Gossipy Hens, she emphasizes the importance of "continuous communication" as her son calls it by capitalizing the words; Just Keep Talking.
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  • Feghoot: The story builds up suspense with the chaos, expectation of dangerous aliens, and lost spacemen, and ends with a common instruction given to young children; listen to your mother.
  • Gossipy Hens: Although it never appears onscreen, Mrs Cremona claims that all women gossip. This is important because the way they gossip (talking non-stop, even while they're listening to other people talk non-stop) solves the story's communication problem.
    "But, Gerard, all women know it. Any two women-on the video-phone, or on the stratowire, or just face to face-know that the whole secret to spreading the news is, no matter what, to Just Keep Talking."
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Mr Cremona is a government physicist, and when a Jovian expedition that went missing over four years ago with only enough supplies for one year suddenly phones home from Pluto, he immediately suspects extraterrestrial involvement. However, the alien threat merely colours the setting, making it urgent to communicate clearly and concisely with the recently re-acquainted expedition.
  • Last-Name Basis: Mrs Cremona is the only character other than her son to be given a name, although the name is purely a deduction from the fact that they should share the same last name.
  • The Namesake: The title refers to Senior Physicist Gerard Cremona, a government researcher. He's currently dealing with a crisis that may have far-reaching consequences, but as far as his mother is concerned, he's still her little boy.
  • No Antagonist: There is no enemy to face; the aliens are hypothetical at best and a Greater-Scope Villain at worst. The conflict is how to make communication between Earth and Pluto despite the radio lag of six/twelve hours.
  • Subspace Ansible: Earth has unexpectedly set up radio communication with Pluto, and now they're trying to work out how to handle the communication lag (six hours one way). The scientist's mother suggests they do the same thing women do on the telephone; they just keep talking and listening at the same time.
    "At the present moment Pluto is just under four billion miles away. It takes six hours for radio waves, traveling at the speed of light, to reach from here to there. If we say something, we must wait twelve hours for an answer. If they say something and we miss it and say 'what' and they repeat-bang, goes a day."
  • Title Drop: The title is said early in the story by the title character; she's looking for her son because he invited her to visit at his work that day.
    The woman smiled. "I'm looking for my son, the physicist."
    "Your son, the-"
    "He's a communications engineer, really. Senior Physicist Gerard Cremona."
  • Unnamed Parent: The viewpoint character doesn't give her name when introducing herself, instead calling herself the mother of Senior Physicist Gerard Cremona, and she is addressed as Mrs Cremona purely as a deduction from the fact that they should share the same last name.
  • Video Phone: The mother mentions video-phones and stratowire as alternatives to face-to-face conversations. They aren't used in the story, just Narrative Filigree to establish that this story is set 20 Minutes into the Future.
  • Women Are Wiser: The titular physicist is trying to convince a general that they need to drop all other Multivac tasks and begin designing an extremely fast method of communication to reduce the effects of light-speed lag in communications between Earth and Pluto. When his mother hears about this, she admonishes him and tells him all they need to do is keep up a constant stream of communications. He marvels at her wisdom and asks how she knew. Turns out, that's all part of women being Gossipy Hens.


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