From a paperback collection of short stories, picked up from an airport store while waiting for a flight in the mid 1980's.

A couple are on a long trip (maybe multi generational) with a ship full of hibernating passengers at sub-light, when attacked by a unknown ship, the attackers energy weapon cannot get through their shield, the attacker then use a faster than light weapon that can, after crippling them the aliens want the shield technology, after using the shield to get rid of the attacker, and knowing that faster than light travel is possible, they turn around and head home. No need to waste more time with sub light travel.

Thanks for any help.

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    There is a Berserker story with that plot. Can't recall much else, and don't have that book any more. Not sure if it was Saberhagen or someone he let play in the milieu. Sep 24, 2016 at 0:11
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    Thanks for the quick reply, I don’t remember any talk of other life forms. If anything, they where surprised when an alien ship approached them because they had no idea any aliens really existed.
    – MKHanson
    Sep 24, 2016 at 1:38
  • This could be Larry Niven's "The Warriors", but i can't find my copy to confirm the FTL part.
    – SteveED
    Sep 24, 2016 at 1:41
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    My recollection is that Niven's "The Warriors" -- the first encounter between humans and Kzinti -- involved no FTL capability on either side. Nor did the human ship have any defensive "shield" that protected it against Kzinti weaponry.
    – Lorendiac
    Sep 24, 2016 at 1:51
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    Ok, there was little communication and no visual idea as to what that attacking aliens looked like. The shield tech was not fully understood, and if I recall it would deflect energy off to like a right angle and vanish like it went into subspace.
    – MKHanson
    Sep 24, 2016 at 2:01

1 Answer 1


This is "What Makes Us Human," from the book Berserker Base. Unlike the other berserker novels and short story collections, this one was written by a whole bunch of science fiction authors. Each of the authors (Stephen R. Donaldson, Connie Willis, Roger Zelazny, Poul Anderson, Edward Bryant, and Larry Niven) provided an independent Berserker story, and Fred Saberhagen wrote a frame narrative (rather weakly) tying them togther.

"What Makes Us Human" is the first story in the book, by Donaldson. The couple who are crewing a slower-than-light ship Aster's Hope (maximum speed 0.85 c, if I recall correctly) encounter a berserker early in their voyage. They defeat it with their "right angles to the speed of light" technology, which they had previously been using as a shield, then turn around and head home, having learned from the encounter the faster-than-light travel can exist.

  • This is the one. Thanks
    – MKHanson
    Dec 4, 2016 at 13:48

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