I read this short story in a periodical, I want to say more fantasy than science fiction. A very short story, only a few pages?, and hard for a (then) teenager to read and understand (I read this over 20 years ago). The plot was:

  • jackass of a human male lands on an alien planet, somehow kills a native alien or commits a crime with capital punishment
  • a machine made of blades and whips shreds native criminals to death in a room meant for execution
  • the human, drunk most of the time, tries to convince the aliens to not kill him
  • there might have been an outdoor game involved? at least two of the aliens are playing the game while talking about the human's case; stereotypical "two people talking to each other very politely about a situation"
  • in the end, the human thinks he has convinced the aliens not to kill him, and they lead him to a room...with the executioner robot waiting "to add his colors" to the walls of the room
  • the two aliens outside comment how they thought the human was insane, so they humored him into thinking he was escaping

No idea of when the story story was written, by whom, or in what magazine. Before 2000, at least. The ambiguity of the "science" part makes me think 1970s? Trying to remember this "dumb human" and "kill the human" type of story.

  • What's the earliest date you could have read it? What fiction magazines were you in the habit of reading? Playboy, Omni, Amazing Stories, Fantastic, Galaxy, If, Astounding, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction?
    – user14111
    Jan 2, 2016 at 1:37
  • Amazing Stories, Astounding, Analog, Asimov's, Fantasy and Science Fiction
    – jhpace1
    Jan 2, 2016 at 2:27

1 Answer 1


The Gentlest Unpeople by Frederik Pohl, Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1958. Also known as The Gentlest Venusian in The Fourth Galaxy Reader collection, 1959, which is where I probably read it so many years ago.

From a review page:

Popagator and The Slide are playing whirlarang, a popular game and one that is integral to their culture. Since their society has done away with war, they’ve relegated anti-social impulses to gaming arenas. An Earther (an “Ugly American”?) tourist observes this deceptively peaceful, ultra-polite, over-helpful society and his first instinct is to exploit them. He literally takes things out of their hands until he makes the mistake of interrupting another alien’s game of whirlarang by trying to take a piece of equipment. The alien won’t give up the whirlarang, so the Earther kills it.

Meanwhile, Popagator and The Slide have been observing the Earther. The two aliens take pity on him and arrange to visit him in prison. They ceaselessly reassure him that everything will be fine, even after he is convicted. They even stage an escape, reasoning that it is the “kindest” death march to the killing chamber possible.

Found it using UNZ.org search engine.

p. 79 ... odorous place where filth-stained walls hinted at unpleasant events, into ... his lips on the back of his hand, glowered at the silent machine and considered his position ... p. 82 ... it. The Justice Machine flared in blinding colors and spim swiftly to ... been some mistake. The Justice Machine found you.guilty." IV npHE ... and waiting for the Justice Machine to report on the ... had never happened before in his life.

Also in ISFDB.

  • You probably already know this, but you can Accept your own answer … Jun 17, 2017 at 5:11

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