Any idea who wrote a short story about a human male who strikes up a relationship with an ultra-cold blooded female alien? They can never touch or communicate, except by intercom from behind protective temperature controlled walls. It seem she speaks a language only the computer can translate. At the end, she pulls his hand to her face, or asks him to touch her. He gets horrid frostbite, and she gets 3rd degree palm print burn on her cheek. She then says something about it being "worth it". Any idea on the author? I once thought it was Le Guin, but I've found nothing like it by her.


I found the answer... only 30 some years late.

The story is called "Snowmaiden", by Kirill Bulychev. It was assigned to us by an English teacher, and I just stumbled upon that wrinkled and faded assignment sheet in a box of things in the attic.

Thanks for the input folks!


Wheelers, by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart (both major scientists, and known in fiction for having co-written the Science of Discworld books with Terry Pratchett. Jack Cohen has also consulted on exobiology for several books and movies.

The book is a story of first contact with aliens who live in Jupiter. The aliens are known as blimps; they can be coarsely described as hydrogen sacks (the way humans are water sacks). The alien biology is rather plausibly and extensively described.

The human protagonist is Moses Odingo, who has had a difficult and extraordinary childhood, and has a gift to intuitively understand animals. He puts his gift into understanding the just-discovered aliens.
The alien protagonist is Bright Halfholder. She is a rather unconventional blimp, and has taken it upon herself to save the Earth from destruction while her fellow blimps are not really taking in that there is sentient life on Earth.

The human and blimp protagonist manage to communicate and establish an emotional relationship. In one of the last scenes, they briefly touch each other, causing discomfort, and perhaps minor frost burns on the human, but no specific injury is described.

Heaven, by the same authors, is set in the same universe, but with different characters, in fact depicting different species.

  • Interesting, but not the story I had in mind. Part of the sting in the story from my question was that the male and female were seemingly compatible, flesh and bone, except for the language and temperature differences. And I recall nothing as elaborate as threats to Earth, or a human with a childhood back story. Feb 20 '12 at 15:33

I'm not certain, but this sounds like something James White would have written about in his Sector General series. Many of his novels were episodic, with multiple disparate stories in each (so would give the feeling of a short story). And this sounds familiar to me... but I cannot find a specific story by him with this plot right now.

So I just have a gut feeling that it's him, but no proof. Perhaps that will help someone else.

  • This is a good instinct, but a quick check of my shelf says there was no such Sector General story. Thanks for making me reread White, though!
    – Tynam
    Jun 14 '12 at 12:44

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