Sunday, January 24, 2010

Five Thousand Light Years from Birdland

Short Story by Robert R. Chase

First contact is made with a bird-like alien who possesses faster-than-light travel and needs help to replace some parts of his ship. We get this story in flashback from the first Human ambassador sent back to the Screet (the alien)'s homeworld. The thing is, our narrator was just a translator, Screet was the one who demanded he come instead of a chosen, political ambassador. In the course of the flashbacks and shipboard conversation we learn the history of Screet's people and their ancient enemy "The Doubles", and try to figure out the meaning of the phrase/book title "Eutik Si Euban". But this makes a lot more sense and isn't the whole point of the story, compared to the classic one-phrase-key-to-diplomacy stories.

Anyway, that is a long summary for a 10 page story, and I still haven't spoiled the major plot points. A lot of things are revealed and it is all done very well. There are poker, jazz, and improv comedy references throughout, although Screet fortunately never sets talon in a nightclub. All of these actually tie into the real point of the story, as the meaning of the phrase, and the history of the Sky People wrap together in a nice understanding of their cultural values, which I could definitely get behind. This one avoids the annoying first contact clich├ęs and fridge logic, it just works: 3.5 out of 5 bird aliens have their doubts about neanderthals.

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