Half-Breed (short story)

Infobox Short story
name = Half-Breed
title_orig =
translator =
author = Isaac Asimov
country = United States
language = English
series = Tweenie
genre = science fiction short story
published_in = "Astonishing Stories"
publisher = Popular Publications
media_type = Magazine
pub_date = February 1940
english_pub_date =
preceded_by =
followed_by = "Half-Breeds on Venus"

"Half-Breed" is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov. It was first published in the February 1940 issue of "Astonishing Stories" and reprinted in the 1972 collection "The Early Asimov". It was the fifteenth story written by Asimov, and the fourth to be published. At 9000 words, it was his longest published story to date.

"Half-Breed" was written in June 1939, and submitted to (and subsequently rejected by) "Amazing Stories" and "Astounding Science Fiction" before being accepted by Frederick Pohl in October for his new magazine "Astonishing Stories".

Asimov wrote a sequel to the story called "Half-Breeds on Venus".

Plot summary

Jefferson Scanlon, a struggling scientist, is trying, and failing, to develop a cheap and reliable method of generating atomic power. While he is taking a walk to think over his work, he rescues a nineteen-year-old orphan "Tweenie", the off-spring of human and Martian parents, from a gang of teenagers. The Tweenie, Max, had escaped from the orphanage where he was raised following the death of his only friend, a fifteen-year-old Tweenie named Tom. Tweenies are despised and treated as subhuman by the general population, but Scanlon takes pity on Max, and invites him into his home. Max has picked up a scientific education at the orphanage, and within a week his insight helps Scanlon solve his problem and develop a workable atomic power source. Scanlon decides to formally adopt Max as his son.

A year later, Scanlon has become wealthy and famous. He realizes that Max is lonely for others of his kind, and he adopts a young Tweenie woman named Madeline, along with two younger Tweenie girls from Madeline's orphanage. Scanlon decides to use his wealth to adopt all the other homeless Tweenies on Earth, and to establish a town in Ohio, Tweenietown, where they can run their own society free from prejudice. Max and the other Tweenies also assist Scanlon to further scientific developments such as a gravity shield.

Fifty years after the adoption of Madeline and the two girls, Tweenietown is a going concern, with a population of 1,154. Scanlon asks a government official for help gaining full civil rights for the Tweenies, pointing out that the Tweenies are more intelligent than humans, and will one day be the leading race in the Solar System. After the official leaves, Max convinces Scanlon that the official, far from wanting to help them, now sees the Tweenies as a threat. Max also reveals that the Tweenies have spent the past five years building three interplanetary spaceships, and that they are determined to leave Earth and settle on Venus. Max invites Scanlon to come with them, but Scanlon decides to remain on Earth.

tory background

"Half-Breed" is set several centuries in the future: at one point, Scanlon notes with relief that it has been two centuries since a war was last fought on Earth, so there is no risk of his newly-invented atomic power source being used as a weapon.

The presence of the Tweenies on Earth is unexplained by Asimov. Max, who is nineteen when Scanlon saves and adopts him, is the oldest Tweenie in the story, which suggests that the existence of the Tweenies is a recent phenomenon. This in turn implies that interplanetary travel is also a recent phenomenon, an implication supported by Scanlon's description of pre-atomic trips to Mars and Venus as "hazardous gambles". Another implication of the Tweenies' presence on Earth is that the native Martians will not allow them to remain on Mars. Those Tweenies who are on Earth were presumbly brought there as infants by human spacemen returning from Mars. Their human parents (probably the crew of Earth ships who have traveled to Mars) have abandoned them, and they have become wards of the state, being raised in state-run orphanages.

When Scanlon goes searching for a female Tweenie companion for Max, he only finds one of a suitable age, which implies that the number of Tweenies on Earth at that time is small. Fifty years later, Tweenietown has a population of 1,154, some of which is undoubtedly due to natural increase by the original Tweenie population, and some of which is equally undoubtedly due to the arrival of more orphaned Tweenies from Mars (since Scanlon and Max's discovery of atomic power makes interplanetary travel more common).

In the fifty-one years that pass in the course of the story, the situation for the Tweenies remains unchanged on Earth. The Tweenies lack, as Scanlon notes, political, legal, economic, and social equality with humans (and, for that matter, with native Martians). Human (and Martian) hostility towards the Tweenies seems to be permanently ingrained.


As with his earlier story "The Weapon Too Dreadful to Use", the theme of "Half-Breed" is the prejudice faced by minorities, something Asimov himself was familiar with due to his Jewish heritage. "I kept coming back to this theme very frequently," he wrote in "The Early Asimov", "something not surprising in a Jew growing up during the Hitler era." [Isaac Asimov, "The Early Asimov", ch. 7.] In "I. Asimov" he wrote, "The undercurrent of genteel anti-Semitism was always there . . . people such as the Catholic priest Father Charles Coughlin and the aviation hero Charles Lindbergh openly expressed anti-Semitic views." However, he was also aware that "prejudice was universal and that all groups who were not dominant, who were not actually at the top of the status chain, were potential victims." [Isaac Asimov, "I. Asimov", ch. 7.]

This view put him at odds with "Astounding" editor John W. Campbell. Asimov noted in "The Early Asimov" that Campbell "seemed to me to accept the natural superiority of Americans over non-Americans, and he seemed automatically to assume the picture of an American as one who was of northwest European origin. I cannot say that Campbell was a racist in any evil sense of the term . . . . Nevertheless, he did seem to take for granted, somehow, the stereotype of the Nordic white as the true representative of Man the Explorer, Man the Darer, Man the Victor." ["Op sit."]

Asimov admitted that even by the standards of scientific knowledge in 1939, the possibility that Mars might have a native intelligent race was unlikely, and the possibility that Martians and humans would be interfertile was even more so. "I can only shake my head wearily," he writes. "I knew better in 1939; I really did. I just accepted science fictional clichés, that's all. Eventually, I stopped doing that." Asimov also noted that "Half-Breed" was "the first story in which I tried to introduce the romantic motif, however light. It had to be a failure. At the time of the writing of this story, I had still never had a date with a girl." ["Ibid."]


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