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Literature / Stranger in Paradise

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First published in Worlds Of If (May-June 1974 issue), by Isaac Asimov, both the American and UK versions. Also included in their The Best From If, Vol. 2 (1974) anthology. This novelette focuses on a pair of brothers.

Anthony Smith is a telemetrics engineer working on the Mercury Project, humanity's initial efforts in colonizing the innermost planet. His older brother, William Anti-Aut, is a homologist, which means he studies neurodivergent brains/genetics.

When Anthony's department is hitting a dead end in their work, he suggests that they hire an expert on human brains to come and help them program the new system. Unexpectedly, his boss invites his own brother to help the team, forcing the two to work together. They design Mercury Computer to operate a robotic body from Earth, a task with a latency of several minutes.

"Stranger in Paradise" has been republished five times; Wollheims Worlds Best SF: Series Four (1975), The Bicentennial Man and Other Stories (1976), Science Fiction Stories 81 (1980), The Complete Robot (1982), and The Complete Stories, Volume 2 (1992).

"Stranger in Paradise" contains examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Five hundred years after the Catastrophe, human beings are settling the solar system; colonies on The Moon, Mars, the asteroid belt and Jupiter's moons. Another expedition is heading to colonize Titan and Anthony Smith is helping to get a robotic presence on Mercury. We also have the ruins of Old New York City and the study of Autism is called Homology.
  • After the End: In this setting, Earth suffered some sort of Catastrophe over five hundred years ago. It never goes into the specifics, but characters attribute their Population Control and Colonized Solar System to that crisis.
  • Autism in Media: This Short Story from 1974 features Randall Nowan, an autistic child who is a background character. He has severe deficits in verbal and nonverbal social communication skills, described as shrinking into the wall of his own skin, from a rare genetic combination.
  • Brain/Computer Interface: Randall is an autistic sixteen-year-old that would have been cancelled except that one of the main characters, William Anti-Aut, got him a Last-Minute Reprieve in order to study his brain/genetics. William then uses his brain as the basis for their Mercury Computer, which wirelessly controls a robot body on Mercury.
    The Mercury Computer, enclosed in glass, carefully and delicately wired, its integrity most subtly preserved, breathed and lived.
    "It's Randall who's in paradise," said William. "He's found the world for whose sake he autistically fled this one. He has a world his new body fits perfectly in exchange for the world his old body did not fit at all."
  • Casual Interplanetary Travel: Humanity is developing regular trips to outer space, having multiple colonies throughout the solar system. When they send a probe/rocket to Mercury, it only takes six months for the trip and can be arranged in only a few weeks.
  • Colonized Solar System: Humanity has colonies on The Moon, Mars, in the asteroid belt and on Jupiter's moons. This Novelette is focused on the early stages of a colony on Mercury.
  • Fictional Field of Science: An odd case; this story treats the field of homology as almost exclusively the study of neurodivergent people and their genetics. One of the homologists prefers the term "the genetic physiology of man". In Real Life, homology is "similarity of the structure, physiology, or development of different species of organisms based upon their descent from a common evolutionary ancestor".
  • Industrialized Mercury: Scientists want to send a probe to test the environment of Mercury. These are the initial stages of what would eventually be a colony, but first the scientists have to prove that robots can handle the logistical problems.
  • Last-Minute Reprieve: Children are raised in creches, and if they are not within certain parameters, they are cancelled. William, who studies people with Autism and their brains, notices Randall's genes are indicative of a very unusual case, and requests that he be transferred to his laboratory instead.
    [W]ithout that impulse, Randall would have been quietly canceled in a week or less.
  • The Namesake: The end of the story gets very close to copying the title. It refers to the way Randall, an autistic child, finds happiness in being used as the basis for a computer that operates a robot sent to Mercury. Randall's specific version of autism (which the story explicitly makes rare) has him feeling imperfectly built to interact with his environment, but by essentially building a body to the environment, they've created a paradise of stimulus for the boy.
    A stranger so long and so lost— in paradise at last.
  • Neurodiversity Is Supernatural: In this post-Catastrophe society, Randall is an autistic child who is chosen as the basis for a computer that operates a robot sent to Mercury. Now that Randall is in a body designed for his environment, he is happy.
  • Population Control: Normally people can only have two children (one to replace themselves, another to replace their sexual partner). There are strict rules to qualify for a third child and children creches are expected to abort or cancel children based on specific guidelines.
  • Released to Elsewhere: In this post-Catastrophe world, children are raised in creches and reproduction is limited. They are aborted (before birth) or cancelled (after birth) whenever they violate certain parameters, such as being identical twins or a failure to socialize.
    Marco, who was the hardhead of the group, complained that the creches were too eager to abort before term and to cancel after term.
  • Rite-of-Passage Name Change: In this setting, people are given their first name at birth and when they are old enough, they can choose their surname. William Anti-Aut names himself in defiance of Autism, wanting to cure it. Anthony Smith takes an unusual (for the setting) name, helping to define how different the future is. Dmitri Large names himself in contrast to his shortness of stature ("Size is not all the large there is, my friend."). Randall Nowan is autistic, and William identifies it partially on the basis of the unusual last name and the way he excludes himself from the rest of humanity.
  • Secondary Character Title: The titular stranger is Randall Nowan, but William and Anthony are the main characters. Randall helps form the basis of the two brothers cooperating.
  • Sibling Team: William and Anthony have the same father and the same mother. Anthony considers this a point of embarrassment due to their society's Population Control. When Anthony's team hits a dead end, he suggests they call a homologist to help them, not realizing that they would invite his brother (who is the best in the field). People naturally let them work out the problems together, subtly encouraging their teamwork. By the end of the novelette, they've bonded and look forward to continuing their partnership.
  • Somebody Named "Nobody": One of the characters chose to name themselves Nowan, pronounced "no one". William takes this as evidence that the child is autistic.