63

I'm looking for a story I read in 1980. It is a short story and may have been in one of Asimov's or Bradbury's collections.

It was about a man looking for a job. He goes into an office with, I believe, a help wanted sign on it. Inside is a beautiful woman and a robotic(?) filing cabinet.

He is allowed to state what the risk he is willing to stake for the job. The odds are his chances of coming back alive (1:1 = %50) The woman is a secretary and she asks him what odds he would like. He asks for one with a great chance of return, something like a 1000:1. The filing cabinet spits out a listing and she gives him a vague description. He takes the job. She gives him a ring and says if you want to return just press the center of the ring and you'll be transported back immediately.

So he arrives at his new job and instantly he is mobbed by the indigenous creatures giving him buckets of their money. He didn't like it so he goes back and asks what it was all about, the secretary says he was collecting sin tax on an alien planet. He didn't make much money because the odds were low risk.

Another job he had I particularly liked: he was a mechanoid being eating every sample of vegetation he could. He had tank tracks to help him maneuver over the alien planet landscape. He eventually ate something poisonous, got sick but continued eating samples. Eventually he ate something medicinal and it counteracted the poison he ingested. After that event he decided the job may be too dangerous.

So he keeps taking jobs, going up and up in odds so he can make more money. Every time he takes a job with riskier odds the woman shows she is interested in him more and more. Finally he gets to a job that is too dangerous, he finds himself standing on a pedestal in between wires with his arms outstretch and he is serving as a communications routing system. As far as he can see, there are other people serving the same function. He is able to look up his account and sees money pouring in and he says to himself only a couple more minutes and I'll have enough for a lifetime. As he is waiting he sees one of the other people touch one of the wires running close by and is disintegrated. Then another and another then he thinks he should go back and he tries to press the ring but wavers a little too much and suffers the same fate as the others.

Meanwhile back at the office as a woman walks in to inquire about the odd jobs, the secretary turns into a handsome man and awaits the next victim.

I read it in 1980-1981 and haven't been able to find it in any of the collections I thought it may have been in. It's a short story so it would not have been a book on its own.

  • 3
    I read this. I had some idea that it would be a Philip K. Dick story, but I could not find it in any of the five volume collection. I have read little of Bradbury, so I would discard him as a possible origin. – SJuan76 Jul 28 '14 at 9:01
  • 3
    I'm pretty sure this isn't by Dick. I've read all of his short stories and this one doesn't ring a bell. – user56 Aug 4 '14 at 22:25
  • 5
    I am almost positive this is a Robert Scheckley story. I am trying to track down which one in particular, but his bibliography is, well, pretty vast. – John Meacham Sep 26 '14 at 5:52
  • 1
    This sounds like it inspired a movie which came out/is coming out. Man gets in on some kind of contest, has to perform steadily more and more dangerous activities to be paid more money. I saw the trailer not too long ago, but I've been looking for the past hour and can't find it again. I thought maybe it'd say "based on the story by..." – Broklynite Nov 16 '14 at 12:19
  • 1
    @Broklynite I believe the movie you are talking about is imdb.com/title/tt2059171 – Huangism Dec 4 '14 at 14:41
13

I think you're talking about "Cuestión de oportunidades", by Spanish SF writer Gabriel Bermúdez Castillo. It was translated into English as "Opportunities Galore", and published in "Terra SF: The Year's Best European SF" (1981).

This is a summary of Bermúdez' story:

Ivan Mendoza, devastated by betting debts, goes to a company that gives opportunities: dangerous jobs in other parts of the universe where, the greater the risk, the greater the remuneration. Mr. Mendoza begins with simple tasks, but given his urgent need for money, and the increasing seduction of the secretary, Miss Hollinger, takes progressively greater and greater challenges. Finally, although he has already won the required money, and because he has a betting addiction, he accepts the biggest challenge, but unfortunately does not survive. The last scene presents the next victim, a young lady looking for opportunities, and this time she's attended by a very seductive secretary, Mr. Hollinger.

  • 2
    Can you explain why you think this is the right answer? – Valorum May 7 '17 at 23:20
  • I've read Bermúdez' story, and the argument matches exactly (I distinctly remember the guy being disintegrated because his finger slightly touches a wire). Also, the year of publication in English (1981) agrees with the date stated in the question (1980 or 81). This page pere-cifi.blogspot.com/2012/09/… has a description of the story. If you google-translate the paragraph starting with "Respecto a “Cuestión de oportunidades”, que sería seleccionado con posterioridad por Domingo Santos", you'll see the similarities. – Lektu May 8 '17 at 0:36
  • I think this is correct. You will get more votes if you can include a translation of that page, or if you can find some other reviews. I searched, but couldn't really find anything beyond the listing in a few anthologies (it is also listed on the author's website). – Bamboo May 8 '17 at 1:58
  • There's not much information online about the story, but it is very well known in the Spanish fandom, at least among older (> 40yo) fans. – Lektu May 8 '17 at 9:44
  • 1
    This answer correlates very well. I have ordered a copy of "Terra SF: The Year's Best European SF" (1981). I will read the story and let you know. I read this while I was stationed in Germany so it may have been picked up on the local economy. Good Job on finding this! – user30884 May 8 '17 at 23:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.