One of Our Asteroids is Missing – Robert Silverberg (as Calvin M Knox) (1964)
‘CAST OF CHARACTERS
He had a dream of riches out among the stars, and he knew he had to follow it, even to his own doom.
She felt his call, even across the depths of space.
The Universal Mining Cartel was an entity too immense, too impersonal to be any more good or evil than its individual members.
She had a manner and a smile as coldly mechanical as the machines she worked with.
A records clerk, who liked to supplement his salary with something better.
He did his job, driven by impersonal greed and unhampered by conscience.
John Storm’s return to Earth was triumphant: he was about to become a millionaire. Now there was only the routine job of validating his claim to the asteroid he’d found. But there was one problem — the computer had no record of Storm’s claim. And stranger yet, the computer had no record of John Storm. He didn’t officially exist!
There seemed only one possible explanation to the nightmare Storm found himself in — someone wanted Storm’s asteroid. There had to be something on that tiny celestial body worth a great deal more than the reactive ores Storm had discovered. And that something was obviously worth the obliteration of anyone or anything getting in the way.’
Blurb from the F-253 Ace Double paperback edition
If one did not know, it would be difficult to identify this gung-ho macho escapism as the work of SF Grand Master Robert Silverberg, writing under the name Calvin M Knox.
Young John Storm has been offered an engineering job with the stereotypical Big Corporation, UMC (The Universal Mining Cartel) but chooses to take two years off from his work and his girlfriend to go asteroid mining, hoping to strike lucky in the asteroid belt and discover a floating rock laced with rare metals.
Strike lucky he does, discovering a large metal-rich asteroid which will make him wealthy beyond his dreams. He returns to Mars to register his claim, and then to Earth, but finds that not only does his claim not exist on the system but that his own identity has been deleted from the records.
Enraged, he decides to return to Mars and track down whoever is behind the theft of his asteroid.
It’s a simple enough tale, and well-written if a little hastily I suspect. There are echoes of Robert Heinlein here and his juvenile wish-fulfilment pieces. John gets to travel around in his own one-man spaceship challenging the might and authority of UMC (who turn out to be, unsurprisingly, the baddies in this adventure) and ultimately discovering a far greater surprise inside the asteroid he claimed.
Clearly, at this point in his career Silverberg, like Heinlein, didn’t really extrapolate to include social change. Storm is a young man of the American Fifties or early Sixties. Women do not go asteroid mining. They stay home and fret about their manfolk out there in that terrible outer space place. The only other woman who appears in the novel is Miss Vyzinski who works in The Hall of Records and has trouble coping with the concept of records being deleted or falsified.
On Mars there is the quaint concept of a Used Spaceship Salesman since it is cheaper to buy a ship to go prospecting in, and sell it back to the dealer at the end of your mining operation, rather than taking it back to Earth.
In summary, it’s the ‘one man against The Company’ scenario where the litte guy ends up winning (with the help of an unexpected ally in this case) and getting the girl.
As I pointed out, it’s hard to see this as the work of the same author as that of ‘The Book of Skulls’, ‘Dying Inside’ or even ‘The Masks of Time’ from around the same period, although most Silverberg devotees will know of the sea change in his writing just before his best work was produced.