An Audio-Book Review: In the Deep Soul-Sucking Darkness of Space…


The Aliens

By Murry Leinster

Published by Librivox.org

Read by tabbithat

 

The Book:

Here is an interesting story, although the plot itself is fairly humdrum. The Aliens is a fairly standard “First Contact” story of the late 1950’s. It was a time long past the “Aliens are automatically hostile conquerors” ala Well’s War of the Worlds. And by then the old trope of the alie3ns turn out to be here from an advanced civilization here to invite us to join the “Grand Galactic Union,” or some such.

This is a trope that was fairly new for the time; aliens are just people too. I’m not sure how well a younger reader right now will fathom some of the concepts in the story. No, I do not think this was written over anyone’s head. It is just that the ethics of war in this story harken back to a day before terrorism was a tool of warfare.

In this story, a human ship encounters one of known hostile aliens. Neither species has ever actually met the other face-to-face, nor have they communicated, merely fought one another, competing for territory. Naturally both ships turn to fight, but something goes wrong and they collide and in the collision their hulls are welded to one another. For reasons explained in the story neither ship has motive power, but together they are now drifting directly toward the local star. Neither crew can destroy the enemy ship without destroying themselves and the crews of both species need the other to get themselves out of this predicament.

Where the age of this piece comes out is in how the people react once in the situation. In many ways, they are like the gentlemen warriors of the past. During a time of truce, selected personnel visit each other’s ships and communicate as best they can in an attempt to work out their mutual problem. In many ways, it reminded me of that Christmas truce of World War I in 1914 during which the soldiers of both sides crossed trenches to exchange holiday greetings, talk and exchange food and souvenirs and even played football in No Man’s Land. Yes, they understood that after the truce they would go back to trying to kill each other, but for that moment they could fraternize when the war was not happening.

The humans and aliens in this story, for the most part, behave in a similarly cordial manner, although they cannot exchange food, or even breathe each other’s air. The story, however, was also written in a time when xenophobia was recognized as well and one of the human crew was xenophobic and that was one of the few points of conflict and dramatic tension.

The story really is too short, and should have been longer to develop the characters more and to further explain why a xenophobe was considered a good shipmate on a warship. Getting to know the aliens better might have been interesting as well, but as short as it is, this story represents a transition from science fiction of the 1940’s and 50’s to how similar issues were discussed in the 1960’s and 70’s. There is a bit of both there and that’s what made it interesting for me.

I won’t give away the end, but it too is typical of the time, but in this case I think it’s a good thing. I liked the ending and would like to think that a similar situation in reality would be resolved in the same manner.

 

The Audiobook:

This is the second time I have listed to a book read by tabithat. The first time was in her reading of H. Beam Piper’s classic Little Fuzzy. At the time, I thought she had started out a bit stiffly but that she warmed up as she went along. This time I enjoyed her reading throughout. Like many Librivox readers she does not attempt to delineate different characters with strong accents or funny voices. She does give a good strong and coherent reading.

So the story is an interesting piece of its period, neither ahead nor behind its time, but tabithat reads it well. This one is definitely worth listening to both for the story and the reader.

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