The Aliens. Murray Leinster, 1960. Short story. 40 pages.
“‘And I think, sir,” said Baird, “that until they detected us they thought they were the only intelligent race in the galaxy. They were upset to discover suddenly that they were not, and at first they’d no idea what we’d be like. But I’m guessing now, sir, that they’re figuring on what chemicals and ores to start swapping with us.’”
Murray Leinster has a ridiculous amount of published science fiction. He is best known, if you can be well known for one specific thing out of over 1,500, for his story First Contact, and the majority of his stuff is surprisingly original. This particular story also gets bonus points for not being anti-communist propaganda, which alien science fiction generally is when it’s from that era.
Instead, this book focuses on a lot of interesting problems that come with the first discovery of aliens, even though Leinster kind of skates over a few of the major ones (to be fair, trying to include all the issues would lead to there not being any kind of book). There’s the potential risk that comes with confronting any species on our level, especially if they also have our sort of hostility. Communication is also a problem, since we wouldn’t even have the universal facial expressions humans have here. The only thing that can be easily(-ish) done is demonstrate our intelligence, seeing as how we’d find each other by technological sensors.
An exploratory spaceship is going through the galaxy, trying to find out about an extraterrestrial species of Plumies, which had only been studied before through artifacts. The ship quickly comes across a Plumie ship, and suspicious panic ensues when they don’t respond to the humans’ attempts to communicate. So, rather than considering the huge technological, perceptual, and linguistic barriers, the humans open fire. The Plumies, presumably irked at this point, reflect the missiles back and then careen towards the humans to instigate a giant game of space chicken.
Both sides lose, and somehow become welded together in the process. It gets even better: the ship combo then starts drifting towards the nearest star. To survive, the two species have to not only get along, but communicate with enough skill to help each other repair the ships.
This entire misadventure is made worse by the guy in charge of defensive maneuvers. This xenophobic soldier spends the story screaming in the background about the inferiority of everything that isn’t human, how the Plumies should be shot, and so on. He even tries to blow up their ship in a fit of supremacist hysteria, which causes obvious logistical difficulties when the two ships are connected.
This is a really good sixties-style short story about how humans and aliens might first interact. It’s hopelessly naïve – aliens would hardly be welcoming when a raging idiot keeps almost managing to slaughter them – but has several interesting ideas about science and future interstellar trade.
The story also manages to mix in a bit of realism in the beginning paranoia, the ‘shoot first’ philosophy of everyone (not just the xenophobe), the bad attempts to communicate over long distances, and the uncertainty in the first part of the book when the humans know essentially nothing. The only irritating thing in the book is the sappy romance that pops out of nowhere, but it’s fairly easy to ignore – or at least to laugh at.
Since the book is only forty pages, and the audiobook is only eighty minutes, it’s definitely worth your time. Especially when it’s free in both formats here.
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Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.