|Genre(s)||Science fiction short story|
|Published in||Thrilling Wonder Stories|
|Media type||Print (Magazine, Hardback & Paperback)|
|Publication date||February 1952|
"Abercrombie Station" is a science fiction short story written in 1952 by American author Jack Vance. It first appeared in the February 1952 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories. In 1965, it was retitled "Monsters in Orbit" and published in an Ace Double edition. In 1976 it was reprinted, with the original title, in The Best of Jack Vance (Pocket Books). Most recently, it appeared in Hard Luck Diggings: The Early Jack Vance, published in 2010 by Subterranean Press.
Jean Parlier, a beautiful but deadly teenager, is hired by a mysterious man to seduce and marry the supposedly terminally ill heir to Abercrombie Station for the fee of one million dollars. Abercrombie Station orbits the Earth and exists as a pleasure resort that caters to the whims of the obese. In space, freed from the demands of gravity, rich, corpulent people frolic in decadent excess. Within the mini-society of the station, obesity becomes the ultimate standard for beauty.
The heir to Abercrombie Station, Earl, is sour and churlish, and Jean, working as a servant, makes a direct play for him, which only raises his ire. Forced to engage in subterfuge, Jean breaks into his private apartments and discovers that Earl has amassed a veritable zoo of malignant creatures from across the galaxy held in suspended animation. Earl engages in unwholesome activities with these aliens and Jean realizes she cannot follow through with her plan to marry him.
Back on Earth, she renegotiates with the mysterious man who hired her and discovers he is actually Lionel, the missing heir to the station who is living in exile. He is normal sized, and has gone to Earth to find a fat woman willing to love him. Jean and Lionel return to the station, force Earl to expose his zoo where he has also entrapped his older brother Hugo, who was presumed dead. Earl is revealed to be a murderer who conspired to rob his family of their rightful heir. In his anger, he unleashes all his animals, killing himself and almost everyone except Jean, Lionel, and a witness. Jean had created a contract with Lionel, using Abercrombie Station as collateral, guaranteeing herself a two million dollar payoff. At the end of the story, she doesn't know what to do with her sudden wealth.
Vance attributed the idea for this story to Damon Knight. While he was editor of the magazine Worlds Beyond, Knight outlined the idea for the story and asked if Vance would write it. However the magazine folded before the story was finished and Vance sold it elsewhere. Sometime later, Vance relates, he met Knight again who complimented him on the story, apparently having forgotten that the idea originated with him.
The theme of a society corrupted by technology to the point of lazy obsolescence is common with Vance. This echoes the theme of his award-winning novella "The Last Castle".
The protagonist Jean Parlier appears also in Vance's short story "Cholwell's Chickens" (1952).