“The Uselss Planet” (novelette) by Olga Larionova
English Publication History: The Ultimate Threshold (Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1970), The Tower of Birds (Raduga, 1989)
Original: Russian (Планета, которая ничего не может дать), 1967
Translated by Mirra Ginsburg, 1967
Synopsis: The Twenty-seventh is one of a few Logitania who have come to a downtrodden planet as Collectors in order to judge the native’s usefulness in their orderly universe. The Twenty-seventh has taken the shape of a girl with a composite face, yet, though true to form in every way and manner, the town’s people still eye her. The Commander is frustrated with her and wants away from the senseless planet with its wasteful dalliances in art and emotion. The Twenty-seventh, however, sees value in the simplicity, even in her own complexity.
Analysis: Twenty-seven, in itself, is an innocuous number for an item in a list. When taken in the contexts of Russian and so-called Western numerological context, however, the number comes to light; in both generally defined cultures, “7” is lucky while “13” is unlucky—both being prime numbers, also. Now, multiply 13 by 2 and multiply 7 by 4; the results are respectively 28 and 26—the first of which is the inheritor of unlucky 13 while the latter is the successor of the lucky 7.
In this rather cursory numerological analysis of the number “27”, we can see that it’s neither lucky nor unlucky, neither gifted nor damned, neither auspicious nor ominous; rather, it’s held in a tight limbo between the two. So too is the so-called Twenty-seventh as she hangs in limbo. She finds herself caught between several constricting and impenetrable layers:
- Between the Logitania and the humans: Born of her alien race, she tacitly knows the culture of her own people yet takes the form of a human in order to do her research, a form and culture of which she is unfamiliar with and, after initial immersion, fails to find her place.
- Between her mission and her superior: Her form was created as a composite of all local females so that she’d look like a local, yet the locals don’t treat her as one their own by sight; thus, because of her failure to integrate, her superior—the Commander—wants to take her off the project.
- Between duty and desire: While the Commander chides her on her poor performance and later isolates her as punishment, she witnesses the beauty of the human world with all its mystery, art, and grittiness; thus, she is conflicted by how to react to her punishment: with a sense of professional duty or a sense of personal purpose.
Review: There is so much internal and external conflict around the Twenty-seventh that the story seems to bubble and froth around her. Take into account a host of other conflicted, scarred, and troubled characters, the fifteen-page story quickly becomes one ripe with temper and emotion even though the alien culture is a logical one. As the story near the conclusion, the tension builds like a coiled length of cloth. The ultimate conclusion, however, supplies a nice release. Taking in consideration that it’s only fifteen pages, the story is a remarkable adventure in conflict and brevity.