Spell My Name with an S

"Spell My Name with an S"
AuthorIsaac Asimov
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published inStar Science Fiction
Publication typePeriodical
PublisherBallantine Magazines
Media typePrint (Magazine, Hardback & Paperback)
Publication dateJanuary 1958

"Spell My Name with an S" is a science fiction short story by American writer Isaac Asimov. The story first appeared in the January 1958 (and only) issue of Star Science Fiction under the title "S as in Zebatinsky", and was reprinted in the 1959 collection Nine Tomorrows under Asimov's original title. The story was inspired by Asimov's frustration with the frequent misspelling of his name as "Azimov".

Although the story is seldom anthologised or otherwise referred to, it is arguably his finest intellectual effort because of its ingenious and believable use of the concepts of chaos theory at a time when the butterfly effect was not yet fashionable. Although Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" was earlier and has been more anthologised, this story is conceptually far more parsimonious, more sophisticated and more useful in illustrating chaotic effects in complex systems.[1]

Plot summary

The story concerns Marshall Zebatinsky, a Polish-American nuclear physicist. He is concerned that his career has stalled, and in desperation consults a numerologist for advice on restarting it. The numerologist advises him to change the first letter of his name to "S": Sebatinsky.

A complicated series of events ensue in which Sebatinsky is investigated by the Security establishment, who feel that he must be trying to hide something. His Polish origins lead them to suspect that he is trying to distract attention from relatives in the Eastern Bloc. They discover that he does have a distant cousin who is also a physicist, which leads to the discovery that the Soviet Union is working on force-fields as a nuclear defense.

The Americans immediately start to develop their own counter-defense. They still have no real reason to suspect Sebatinsky, but just in case they look for a discreet way to get him out of the classified project in which he is engaged. Much to his surprise (and delight), Sebatinsky is appointed to a senior professorial post, which is exactly what he hoped for when he went to the numerologist.

At the end of the story, it is revealed that the numerologist is actually an extraterrestrial and that he was involved in a bet as to whether he could avert a nuclear war on Earth with a minor stimulus (see butterfly effect). Though it is not explicitly specified, it is clear that the extraterrestrial in question is a brilliant school-boy (or the equivalent among creatures of pure energy who live in space) who made a bet with another pupil. The story concludes with the same two beings making another bet to put everything back the way it was with another minuscule alteration, with the inevitable consequence that the world will end in nuclear holocaust.

Asimov comments that the last section of the story was put in as an afterthought. Despite the original happy ending, Asimov was not satisfied, because the numerologist had not been accounted for. So he put in the last part to explain the numerologist, giving the story a sad ending after all.[citation needed]

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