When I was a kid, my parents had a bunch of old SF short-story anthologies. The story I'm trying to track down was featured in one of them, but I don't remember the title, the author, or the year... (One of the collections was "SF '59: The Year's Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy", but I have tracked down the title listing for that one and it's not the one. It would have been from approximately the same period, though.)

The story in question is not "hard" SF; it's simply set in an indeterminate near future. The protagonist is an inventor who has built "a better mousetrap" and is trying to find a buyer/investor; he's been looking a long time, and his only friend is his pet mouse who demonstrates the mousetrap for the benefit of prospects. This time, however, the prospective investor insists on absolute proof that the mousetrap is inescapable, and the protagonist finds himself watching his friend drown. (I no longer even remember whether the investor signs the deal in the end or not... it's been at least 30 years since I read it. I do remember crying my eyes out, though.)

The story came back to my mind because some friends of mine are being put through a similar ordeal by a venture capitalist; it's no longer clear whether their startup will still be recognizable as theirs if and when it gets fully funded. I just wanted to pass along the story - if I can find it - as a reminder that this sort of thing has been going on for a long time.


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I wasn't able to find it directly, but on the third page of Google results I found a Damon Knight book entitled Creating Short Fiction: The Classic Guide to Writing Short Fiction, which cited it as an example of "The Story of Decision":

Stories of this kind usually concern divided interests or loyalties. In John Collier's "The Steel Cat," for instance, a man has invented a better mousetrap: the mouse walks out along a beam to get the bait, the beam tilts, the mouse falls into a jar of water and drowns. The inventor has been all over the country demonstrating the trap with the aid of a beloved pet mouse, but without success. In Chicago he shows the trap to a buyer who is impressed, but who becomes suspicious when the inventor tries to rescue his pet; he won't believe the trap works until he sees the mouse dead. The anguished inventor lets it drown.

The Steel Cat is included in the collection Fancies and Goodnights, which I now recall was among my parents' collection alongside the SF anthologies. I've ordered a copy and can hardly wait...

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    Just thought I'd post a follow-up - my copy arrived, and though it was advertised as in Good condition, it was in frankly awful condition: the glue and spine of the binding rotting and falling away in chips, the pages mildewed and stinking. I got a refund, but it served as a reminder that e-commerce is not always a reliable replacement for bricks and mortar; I would never have even picked up this copy, let alone bought it, if I'd seen it beforehand. Caveat emptor and all that. Yet another reason to support your local bookstores - new AND used.
    – MT_Head
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 1:15

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