Review: Science Fiction Short Story: "The K-Factor" by Harry Harrison

@msiduri (5743)
United States
December 17, 2016 11:11am CST
Societics is “the applied study of the interaction of individuals in a culture, the interaction of the group generated by these individuals, the equations derived therefrom, and the application of these equations to control one or more factors of this same culture.” In other words, Societics is sociology as social control. But there are problems with that sort of power to control others. Societics founder Abravanel is worried they may lose the planet of Himmel. There’s a lot of activity—always has been. But it’s always been negative. More recently, they’ve been getting some positive readings. He’s going to send his disciple Neel Sidorak to run a survey. Neel is surprised to find that is even possible to lose a planet. It’s simply a matter of making the correct observation and calculating of the k-factor to the tenth decimal then making the suitable adjustments. After all, Societics is an exact science— He’s quickly disabused of that notion. There is an agent already on Himmel, so Neel feels like he’s horning in. Nevertheless, he is happy to go until he realizes he’s to be accompanied by Adao Costa. The two have history and now he works for the hated UN. What they’re most concerned about is the k-factor, indeed, it is the only one among thousands they observe they try to change. It can be measured mathematically. It should be always negative. A positive k-factor means a planet is on the way to war. Yet, there should also always be a balance. Without some tension, technology and culture stagnate. Ordered to make nice with Costa, Neel does his best. Nevertheless, he’s annoyed when Costa’s solution to everything is to go in guns a-blazing. Their careful survey reveals a group, the Society for the Protection of the Native Born, which gives off so much positive k-factor its elimination could put the planet back into the negative. Costa leaves to see what damage he can do, but Neel thinks. This seems a bit easy. If they found the group, certainly the agent Hengly already knows about it, yet has never reported it… Though this has a sci fi setting, it reads much like a spy thriller. The k-factor is explained to the reader in terms of an atomic pile: you want a dampener around to prevent an atomic explosion, but you don’t want too much dampener to make the sample useless. The planet name “Himmel” may sound familiar. It’s a German word that means both “sky” and “heaven.” I couldn’t figure what, if any, the significance was in the story. Technical and other explanations aside, I rather liked this bloody little story. It includes a couple of surprises, though no major twists. Author Harry Harrison is the same of Stainless Steel Rat fame. The story is available from Project Gutenberg and as an audiobook from Librivox: _____ Title: “The K-Factor” Author: Harry Harrison (1925-2012) First Published: Analog of Science Fact and Fiction December 1960 Source: ISFDB *An earlier version of this review appeared on another late unlamented site. It had been updated and expanded for its inclusion on myLot.*
2 people like this
2 responses
@JohnRoberts (63222)
• Los Angeles, California
17 Dec 16
I don't know about this one. Harrison is a famous name.
1 person likes this
@msiduri (5743)
• United States
17 Dec 16
He is. When he was good, he was great. But he had a could of oopsies. This wasn't an oopsie. I see a bit of Stainless Steel Rat here. Some humor, but nothing like him at his best.
@teamfreak16 (41504)
• Colorado Springs, Colorado
18 Dec 16
A sci fi spy thriller. Sounds good. Too bad this phone sucks.