I read a short story in the mid 1960's and now cannot remember the title. It was in an anthology I think.

The story began with space travelers, male and female. I think they were involved in a planetary colonization program, as they referred to many colonies. The key element was that they included in each colony crew an individual who did not connect well with other people, but he was invaluable for his ability to simply absorb information of every random type and make a valuable connection between disparate facts.

In this story, he was the only one who could solve the mystery of crew members dying unexpectedly and for unknown causes. He connected an obscure factoid about the side effect of a rare metal in certain life forms that was always fatal. He sounds the alarm to evacuate and all were saved.

  • Welcome to Science Fiction & Fantasy! This question would be improved by going through the checklists here; How to ask a good story-ID question?
    – Valorum
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 23:16
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    This was a bit of a trope in the 60s; a meta-profession called "synthesist" that was like a super-powered generalist who could intuit connections between information in different fields. (Off the top of my head, one of the Rostomily clones in "The Un-man" was one.)
    – DavidW
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 23:35
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    This is pretty much how humans evolved on planet earth, and why people with Asperger's and autism aren't extinct even though it means they aren't part of the normal "herd". A quick google gave me this example.
    – pipe
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 9:27
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    @pipe It is also how the whale got its throat
    – Yakk
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 14:18
  • probably the same as scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/231272/… (which is newer but has an accepted answer)
    – Otis
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 16:21

2 Answers 2


Found it! I knew I had read it some time ago. Isaac Asimov "Sucker Bait." It was a tough one to find with my limited brain cells, but it pushes all the right buttons.

The crew, in fact, were rather contemptuous of the passengers, and avoided them.


Additionally, the individual irritated the captain of the Triple-G space ship.

And as he was about to leave, the captain called out, "Sheffield!"


"What in Space is a 'noncompos'?"

Sheffield suppressed a smile. "Did he call you that?"

"What is it?"

"Just short for non compos mentis. Everyone in the Service uses it for everyone not in the Service. You're one. I'm one. It's Latin for 'not of sound mind.' And you know, captain-I think they're quite right."

In a near-mutiny, the earliest version of a learning-obsessed Sheldon-Cooper-type also managed to get the ship off the planet. During an investigation after the "escape:"

"Because I know what killed the first expedition, and it was only a question of time before it killed us. In fact, it maybe too late already. We may be dying now. We may, every one of us, be dead men."

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    You should add a quote about beryllium poisoning to your answer; it makes this a much better match to the question.
    – DavidW
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 0:50
  • I had forgotten about this story. I remember reading it when I was probably 11 or 12 and was so stuck on myself that I called others "noncompos" for awhile. Needless to say, I was a bit of a geek at the time. My wife and kids would argue that I still am.
    – Deacon
    Commented May 28, 2019 at 13:19
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    "After nearly two years on the planet, all 1,337 colonists had died for reasons unknown." So it was an elite expedition? Commented May 28, 2019 at 22:10
  • @Acccumulation Heh, cute. (It took me a moment to realize you were quoting from Wikipedia, not the story. In the original text, the total is not as obvious: "That consisted of an actual settlement of seven hundred eighty-nine men, two hundred seven women and fifteen children under the age of thirteen. In the course of the next year, three hundred fifteen women, nine men and two children were added by immigration.")
    – Jacob C.
    Commented May 29, 2019 at 21:55

It is not a perfect match, but much of what you are describing sounds like The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt. The 1950 book was a fix-up of earlier stories the author had published, mostly in between 1939–1943.

Wikipedia describes the main character thus:

The main protagonist of the novel is Dr. Elliott Grosvenor, the only Nexialist on board (a new discipline depicted as taking an actively generalist approach towards science). It is Grosvenor's training and application of Nexialism rather than the more narrow-minded approaches of the individual scientific and military minds of his other shipmates that consistently prove more effective against the hostile encounters both from outside and within the Space Beagle. He is eventually forced to take control of the ship using a combination of hypnotism, psychology, brainwashing, and persuasion, in order to develop an effective strategy for defeating the alien entity Anabis and saving the ship and our galaxy.

Unfortunately, the specific problem described in the question (with members of the crew being poisoned by a rare metal) does not match the story so closely. However, the story does feature an alien life form that kills members of the crew in a mysterious fashion, so that it (the alien—"coeurl," by name) can extract a certain element from their flesh.

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