But, I Don’t Think
By Randall Garrett
Published by Librivox
Read by Phil Chenovert
I have admitted before that before I started listening to audiobooks, especially those available from Librivox, that I had almost no experience with Randall Garrett’s stories, except for those featuring Lord Darcy. So, it has been a real eye-opener as to what I have been missing. How Garrett somehow missed being ranked among the Grans Masters of the SFWA, I don’t know, There are certainly some on that list I would rank him ahead of, but I guess that’s the way it goes.
I would not rate But, I Don’t Think as one of his best stories, but it is a fun and interesting bit of SF in the classic mode. What we have is a dystopian society in which the classes are probably as set in stone as any society with castes. The protagonist is a middle class citizen whose job is to “Guess.” Guessing is a sort of psionic ability to foresee the outcome of actions both observed and unobserved, so I guess it is at least partially like precognition. Guessers train by playing baseball blindfolded and good guessers get a hit every time. However, the mix of probabilities in space travel are far more complex than a mere ball game and that is what guessers are needed for so he has a very good job on board a spaceship and an assistant guesser that he is training.
The down side of it all is that this society is basically a slave society with everyone not in the very upper class, living in a form of slavery to those above him. The Guesser expects to be tortured when he gets something wrong and even when his student screws up. It is natural to him that his captain would order such induced torture, justified within that society because, in spite of the intense pain, no physical damage is done. As I listened I kept in mind is such techniques existed here and now they would be used and probably be justified by at least half our politicians, which might have been Garrett’s point. In any case, naturally the captain has the right to inflict such punishment… he’s the captain. That captain would be similarly punished by his betters should he fail at his job or misbehave in some manner.
After a session of punishment, the Guesser goes planet-side to get a drink or three and gets mugged while on his way back to the ship. When he wakes up in a lowest class home, he learns his ship has left him behind, declaring him outlaw and in breach of contract. He must either find his way back to his ship of to some other form of safety.
I will not give away the ending, which some people might find disappointing, but I will admit it is consistent with the character and his society. For a short, entertaining story, this had a powerful message about humans and the cultures in which they live. It won’t take long to read, but it might keep you thinking about it for a while.
Phil Chenovert has a soft of sarcastic hint to his voice as he reads. It is not a nasty sarcasm, more like a, “Hey listen to THIS one,” sort of sarcasm that includes you in on the joke. Of course, that sort of delivery works better on some stories than others but seems suited to Randall Garrett’s short stories and this one especially. It kept the story light even during the more stressful times for the characters.
So, it’s a pretty good story, told well and also read well.