Pâté de Foie Gras (short story)
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (August 2009)|
|"Pâté de Foie Gras"|
|Genre(s)||science fiction short story|
|Published in||Astounding Science Fiction|
|Publisher||Street & Smith|
|Publication date||September 1956|
Pâté de Foie Gras is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov which was first published in the September 1956 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It appeared in Asimov's 1957 science essay collection Only a Trillion, in his 1968 short story collection Asimov's Mysteries, and in The Complete Stories, Vol. 2. It also appeared in The Edge of Tomorrow.
Like the classic The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline, Pâté de Foie Gras is a scientific spoof article. In the story, a nameless Department of Agriculture employee tells of the discovery on a farm in Texas of a goose that lays golden eggs.
A goose is discovered that is actually laying gold eggs. The goose, it is learned, is transmuting one naturally occurring isotope of oxygen into gold. The goose's liver contains enzymes which are able to catalyze nuclear reactions. Asimov was a biochemist and his reasoning remains sound in that any metabolic pathway that yields either as much as or not significantly more energy than that contained at the start of the pathway will not negatively interact with cellular proteins. However, the goose would be incinerated should it lose metabolic control of the gold metabolic pathway, as atomic transmutation yields energies 4 orders of magnitude (or 10,000 times greater) than that of a biochemical reaction. The enzymes have a useful property, however, and that is the ability to absorb any nuclear radiation to which the goose is exposed, and to render harmless any nuclear material with which the enzymes are fed.
The story ends with the narrator in a dilemma: in order to discover how the goose is doing all this, it will be necessary to dissect it; but there is only one goose. And, since the goose's eggs contain a lot of gold, it can't reproduce (a variety of heavy-metal poisoning). The narrator decides to contact Asimov and have him write up the story, soliciting the readers of Astounding for ideas.
In a commentary on the story, Asimov wrote that it was his intention for there to be a single solution discoverable by the reader. The hint dropped in the story is the description of an experiment in which the goose's gold production goes up when it is given water enriched with oxygen-18, which would indicate a possible source of the gold produced. This was expected to imply that if the goose is maintained in a closed environment, it will convert all the oxygen-18 to gold, while still being able to breathe the predominant oxygen nuclide (oxygen-16). It will excrete all the gold in its eggs, at which point it can be expected to start producing fertile eggs.