I am looking for identification of a short story I read as part of an anthology around twenty years ago, and I think it might have been written by Harry Harrison but I am not certain.

Plot line goes like this: evil alien empire invade earth. They've done this many times, they know the routine. The populace resists, is crushed and turned into slaves/subjects of the empire, leader of the invasion retires to a life of luxury as colonial governor. I think the aliens look like humanoid snakes.

But Earth is different. When the invading force arrives, they spot no defenses, no military. When the ships land, the earthlings welcome them with open arms. The aliens are nonplussed and ask if the earthlings realize just what is going on.

Oh yes, the earthlings reply. But they point out that Earth doesn't have FTL technology and clearly the aliens do and could crush them if they resist. But by the same token they must have value, and other out there (whether pirates or other empires) may seek to take their planet by force and kill the populace. And if that happened, the empire would be forced to defend Earth as a valuable colony. Therefore it is in the Earthlings' best interests to be as valuable to their new masters as possible, not fight them.

The aliens point out that they could conceivably be defeated by this hypothetical threat. The humans shrug and agree, then point out that this would simply show that their new masters were even more capable of defending Earth.

Fast forward and the new planetary governor finds himself bored. He is chatting with his second in command who has just come in excitedly for having earned a black belt in human martial arts (I don't remember which one in particular, if it is even mentioned).

The governor is mystified, why didn't his lieutenant simply take this black belt? The lieutenant explains that without earning the belt, it would be meaningless. Instead, it required him to train and master the skill of human martial arts, which are curiously different from the aliens' own form. He explains via example:

In the alien martial arts, if one person shoves against the other, the second person seeks to shove back harder, thereby establishing might and dominance.

In human martial arts, however, the second person would instead seek to grab the first persons arm and guide them in the direction they are already going. By doing so, the first person is thrown completely off balance and at the mercy of the second person.

The governor thinks this sounds insane, ridiculous, and says a lot about a cowardly people like the humans.

Toward the end of the story, this comes back to haunt him. He suddenly finds that none of his men will respond to his command. A coup has occurred and the humans have slaughtered every alien on the planet except him. The humans simply bided their time until they had learned the secret of FTL, how to build and maintain a space navy, and in the meantime the occupying force had become soft and were easily dispatched. Now the humans are taking the navy back to the alien empire and aim to take it down. To replace it or to free the enslaved planets, I don't really remember.

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    I don't know but it sounds great! Nov 2, 2016 at 12:17
  • I don't remember the title, but I am almost certain this story is by Christopher Anvil. Nov 2, 2016 at 14:47
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    The martial art sounds like Aikido.
    – arp
    May 18, 2018 at 21:28
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    @LeeEckhardt The story was identified and is not by Christopher Anvil. However, Christopher Anvil did write a substantially similar story called "The Underhandler". Baen Books has the story in a collection The Trouble with Humans and Baen lets you read a few chapters or stories from each book as a teaser; and luckily "The Underhandler" is one of the free-to-read stories. Here's a link: baen.com/Chapters/1416521429/1416521429___2.htm
    – steveha
    Feb 2, 2021 at 23:54

1 Answer 1


“Basic Right”

This short story by Eric Frank Russell was first published in Astounding Science Fiction (1958). If the questioner read it in an anthology roughly twenty years ago, it was probably Major Ingredients: The Selected Short Stories of Eric Frank Russell, published in 2000. It is available here.

The Raidans, aliens from Sigma Octantis, invade Earth. They might look a bit like humanoid snakes, based on this picture from the original publication:

enter image description here

Snake-like arms, anyway.

Zalumar, the leader of the invasion, is surprised by the humans’ submissiveness:

“We are going to assume ownership of Terra, lock, stock and barrel,” emphasized Zalumar, still watching him. “We are going to confiscate your world because the rewards of life belong to the most deserving. That is our opinion. We have the power to make it the only acceptable opinion. Do you understand me. Fox?”

“Yes, sire.”

“The prospect does not annoy you?”

“No, sire.”

“Why doesn’t it?”

Fox shrugged philosphically. “Either you are cleverer than us or you aren’t, one way or the other, and that is that. If you aren’t, you won’t be able to conquer this world no matter what you say or do.”

“But if we are cleverer?”

“I guess we’ll benefit from your rule. You can’t govern us without teaching us things worth learning.”

“This,” declared Zalumar, with a touch of wonder, “is the first time in our history that we’ve encountered so reasonable an attitude. I hope all the other Terrans are like you. If so, this will prove the easiest conquest to date.”

At one point, the second-in-command of the planetary governor earns a black belt in a martial art:

“A self-satisfied smirk is at least a pleasant change from Lakin’s miserable features,” commented Zalumar. “What has made you so happy?”

“I have been awarded a Black Belt,” informed Heisham, swelling with pride.

“You have been awarded it? By whom?”

“By the Terrans, sire.”

Zalumar frowned. “There can be no worth-while award on a world where anything may be confiscated.”

“A Black Belt means nothing if merely grabbed,” explained Heisham. “Its value lies in the fact that it must be won. I got mine at the risk of my neck.”

He then reflects on the peculiarities of Terran fighting styles:

“I was caught napping by his extraordinary technique. This Terran wrestling is very peculiar.”

“In what way?”

Heisham sought around for an easily explainable example, said, “If I were to push you it would be natural for you to oppose my push and to push back. But if you push a Terran he grabs your wrists and pulls the same way. He helps you. It is extremely difficult to fight a willing helper. It means that everything you try to do is immediately taken further than you intended.” “The answer is easy,” scoffed Zalumar. “You give up pushing. You pull him instead.”

“If you change from pushing to pulling, he promptly switches from pulling to pushing,” Heisham answered. “He’s still with you, still helping. There’s no effective way of controlling it except adopting the same tactics.”

At the end of the story, the humans rebel, to Zalumar’s great surprise. They then seek retribution against Raidan:

“Time will show. There won’t be much of it, either. Maybe we could build a super-fleet by combining the virtues of your ships and ours. But we’re not going to bother. It would take too long. We’ll have learned how to bperate your vessels before another day has passed.”

“Eight ships against Raidan’s thousands?” Zalumar indulged a harsh laugh. “You haven’t a hope of victory.”

“There will be no thousands from Raidan. We’re going to send those ships hotfoot after Heisham. Even if they don’t overtake him they’ll arrive so close behind that the Raidan authorities will have had no time to react.”

“And what then?”

“A new binary will be born.”

The title of the short story comes from the Raidan’s mistake. They believed that the humans, because of their alien outlook, believed that everyone had the “basic right” to live as they chose, and that the humans had therefore accommodated their imperial fantasies. However, it turns out that humanity recognizes a different right:

“So much for your well-beloved basic right.”

“You’ve got hold of the correct stick—but at the wrong end,” said Fox.

“The right that we recognize is that of every species to go to Hell after it’s own fashion.”

  • 2
    The story is available at archive.org.
    – user14111
    Nov 2, 2016 at 20:31
  • @user14111 - Yeah, that’s where I found it.
    – Adamant
    Nov 2, 2016 at 20:32
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    So why don't you put the link in your answer for the OP?
    – user14111
    Nov 2, 2016 at 20:35
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    If the folks at archive.org are violating copyright law (which I doubt), am I in violation of something if I provide someone with their url? (Obviously I'm not a lawyer.)
    – user14111
    Nov 2, 2016 at 20:44
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    I may be thinking of the same story, did this one start with the aliens landing in a distant location, like Antarctica, and the humans there suggesting the first thing they do is purchase suits so they would be more fitting as the servants of the new overlords? If not, someone wrote a very similar story, but I clearly remember the humans had a saying about how to handle these invasions along the lines of "let them go to hell in their own way". Nov 2, 2016 at 20:47

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