Allamagoosa
by Eric Frank Russell

Review by
Jennifer Monroe Franson

Astounding Science Fiction, May 1955

collected in —
Far Stars
The Best of Eric Frank Russell

Major Ingredients

November 2010

  
Taking stock

Eric Frank Russell's famous short story "Allamagoosa" is a miniature masterpiece in one of his specialties, the humorous indictment of bureaucratic obtuseness and red-tape entanglement. Although it was published in 1955 and set in the distant future, the central science-fiction problem in "Allamagoosa" is all too familiar to any present-day reader who has wrestled with the fossilized procedures of entrenched bureaucracy.
  

The naval starship Bustler is docked at Siriport, and its crew is enjoying some well-deserved ground-leave, when the Captain receives word of an upcoming visit by the Space Navy's Head Inspector of Ships and Stores.

Captain McNaught knows that heads will roll if anything, however small, turns up missing without proper documentation, so this announcement sets off a frenzy of preparatory checking. Captain and officers set out to inventory absolutely everything from the pilot's beam compass to the cook's bain marie pans and the cushion on which the ship's dog sleeps. (Although the dog has chewed up half the cushion, the officers hope it will pass muster because he left half — so even damaged, it is accounted for.) Of course one item does turn up missing — and worse, no one seems to know exactly what the missing item is or even what it looks like.
  

Russell's off-hand inventiveness with technical slang is just one of the elements that work to fine effect here. "Allamagoosa" is a joy to read, and to re-read.

  

  
© 2010 Jennifer Monroe Franson


  
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