This story was written in or before the 1960s when read in an anthology.

It may have been written by famed science fiction writer Murray Leinster, or not.

In this story Earth Humans have colonized most of the galaxy and the government is headed by a board of scientists. However, the scientists are more interested in science than governing and so the bureaucracy below them has gradually ignored them and grown decadent and incompetent.

The protagonists get fed up and seek out the board of scientists, trying to get them to intervene and straighten out the bureaucracy.

And intermixed with that story are accounts of the disasters caused by bureaucratic delay and incompetence.

For example, the "Alioth Colonization Cooperate" had a lack of cooperation from the galactic bureaucracy. It was discovered that the sun of another colony planet was about to go nova but the bureaucracy did not approve the evacuation request in time. And so on.

Does anybody here remember the title and author of that story?

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    Though neither matches two well, two Asimov stories come to my mind. The Currents of Space has discovered that the sun of a planet is about to go nova, but the aristocracy didn't approve of evacuation. “Blind Alley” tells about galactic bureaucracy.
    – b_jonas
    Jul 6, 2015 at 6:50
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    Is the "Alioth Colonization Cooperate" a memory from the story, or just an example of the sort of thing that might be mentioned in the story? Jul 6, 2015 at 11:00
  • I remember it exactly as "Alioth Colonization Cooperate". or maybe "Alioth Colonization Cooperative" I remember think that h if humans have spread all across the galaxy it would be odd to just be getting around to colonize such a close star as Alioth Jul 7, 2015 at 4:23

1 Answer 1


You might try looking at the works of Eric Frank Russell, who wrote at least 2 stories that had bureaucratic wastes and screwups as plot elements: "Allamagoosa", where a starship invents a part called an Offog in order to pass an inspection, then reports it came apart in flight under gravitational stress. This backfires badly when they find it was a typo for Off. Dog, the official ship's dog.

In "A Study in Still Life" there is even more. Here is the Wiki plot summary:

Sitting at a desk with a surly co-worker, processing endless forms while fat cats in the office line their own nests, is no way to end a career as a space pilot. So when one ex-spacer finds that an order for a biological irradiator, needed to help wipe out an insect plague on a colony planet, has been sidelined to make way for a shipment of gin for one of his superiors, he takes action.

He invents a fictional new colony called "Nemo", and puts in a high priority order for the irradiator, meaning to re-route it to the real colony when it arrives. He forges several signatures, including his co-worker's and his own. He reasons that if anything at all gets done in the organization it's probably because people are forging signatures they'd have to wait forever to get. His deskmate just says "You can't beat the system."

The middle of the story tells the tale of how the new order progresses through the system, with officials inspecting the factory making the irradiator to see that it is indeed a real and properly patriotic business, and other officials creating official documents stating that the irradiator will indeed have the desired effect on the insects and so on and so forth.

In record time, that is to say mere months, the irradiator arrives, and immediately the bureaucrats smell a rat. The ex-pilot is called to explain to his boss, to the "I told you so's" of his deskmate. He seems oddly confident, however.

He explains to his boss that, yes, Nemo is not a colony. It's a code word for a "tentative priority", that is one which will apply if nothing else intervenes. When asked why he did this, he responds that certain shipments had been getting more priority than they deserve. Bit by bit he admits that the problem was the gin shipment, knowing that his boss is a mortal enemy of the gin drinker. That gets him off the hook, but then he plays his trump card.

He has an idea to stop abuses by creating a tracking process which will monitor a form as it proceeds through the system. His boss is only mildly interested until told of the extra subordinates he will have to hire to implement the process. Like most bureaucrats, his status, pay, perks, and pension increase with the number of people working for him. He decides to adopt the idea for the good of the organization, and gratefully offers the ex-pilot the job of supervisor in the new department.

Returning to his desk, our hero informs his surly deskmate that "You can beat any system. All you do is turn the handle the way it goes, only more so." The response is "Shut up. And don't talk until you can talk sense."

Russell used some themes repeatedly, and he was active in the 1950s, so while neither of these is a fit, maybe one of his other works is.

  • Ah, I was looking for the name of "A study in still life" and your answer showed up while I was writing my question. Nailed it. Thanks.
    – itsbruce
    Jun 13, 2019 at 22:57

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