Most Dangerous Man in the Galaxy

Aersling

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Sep 12, 2021
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I'm looking for the name/author of a sf short story about a prisoner aboard a spaceship being taken into exile. He has the ability to control others by making them mistrust each other, and gets the crew to do double watches so they can check on each other.
He ends up on a planet alone but even there he manages to get two colonies of ants to go to war with each other.
I've been trying to find the name for years now, as it seems a perfect metaphor for today's divisive politics.

Can anybody help me? Many thanks in anticipation.
 

Hugh

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This sounds a lot like Theodore Sturgeon's "Mr Costello, Hero"

I can't find a good summary, but this may ring some bells:
taken from The Theodore Sturgeon Literary Trust - Theodore Sturgeon, Storyteller
Sturgeon wrote, just to give you an example, the all-time great story about Senator Joseph McCarthy, who he was and how he did what he did. The story is called "Mr. Costello, Hero," and it starts out on a spaceship. This man Costello is a passenger on the ship -- wonderful guy, everybody likes him. Except maybe the skipper, an uptight old coot who doesn't approve of the progressive influence Mr. Costello has had on his crew. Like they've started playing draw poker without the draw, because that way there's less opportunity for anyone to cheat. And volunteers stand watch in the galley, to make sure the cook isn't poisoning the food. True, it makes for a crowded kitchen, but Cooky doesn't mind -- this way he knows everybody can trust him.
Costello gets off at a city on a frontier planet and manages to drive a wedge between the city-dwellers and the trappers who provide the fur that is the planet's chief export, by making people deathly afraid of anyone who likes to be alone. Pretty soon he's running the place. It's utterly terrifying and utterly believable, particularly because Sturgeon tells the story from the viewpoint of a guy (the ship's purser) who really likes Mr. Costello and doesn't see anything wrong in the way he does things.


A disturbing story. It's been a while since I read it, but I'm fairly certain it ends with the narrator, the naive ship's purser, visiting him at the isolated place where he's detained and he's experimenting with ants.
 
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Ravensquawk

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A disturbing story.

A really disturbing story.

“I tell you, Purser, wherever you look, if you look long enough, you can find a way to make most of a group turn on the rest."

I wrote down that quote from it in my teens.

Because of that quote alone, it should be required reading.

Here, I'll make it easier.

Galaxy Science Fiction, December 1953
 

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