6

I read this story decades ago (probably between 1975 and 1990). I remember it only vaguely. If I recall correctly it involved humans exploring the galaxy with an alien contact policy reminiscent of Star Trek's Prime Directive.

In the story, aliens on one of these explored planets somehow acquired a piece of human equipment, or perhaps plans for the equipment, and attempted to make their own copy. They duplicated it with great care, complete with the cord that plugged into the wall. However, they knew nothing about electricity, so the socket in the wall wasn't wired to anything. They couldn't figure out why their machine didn't work.

The machine might have been a weapon, but again I'm not sure. I'm pretty certain it was large, as in a fixed installation, or at least too big for someone to carry.

I think it was a short story, but it's possible it was part of a novel. It was told from a human's point of view. Probably third person, but I can't remember for sure. If I recall correctly, the human was engaged by the aliens to help them figure out why the machine didn't work.

Can anyone identify this story for me? Please?

  • It was told from a human's point of view. Probably third person, but I can't remember for sure. – Brent Johnson Oct 28 '17 at 20:53
  • It might have been a weapon, but again I'm not sure. I'm pretty certain it was large, as in a fixed installation. If I recall correctly, the human was engaged by the aliens to help them figure out why it didn't work. – Brent Johnson Oct 28 '17 at 20:54
  • I probably read this story some time between 1975 and 1990. – Brent Johnson Oct 28 '17 at 20:55
1

A similar episode is found (if memory serves) in Gordon Dickson's The Space Winners. A key component (vacuum tube?) was completely misunderstood. It was electronics, though, not electricity per se, that the aliens weren't aware of.

  • Thanks. I'll have to check that out. It's certainly possible that my memory distorted that story to what I described, and I did read a fair amount of Gordon Dickson at that time. – Brent Johnson Oct 29 '17 at 11:39
  • 1
    OT but perhaps interesting. Although this plot is clearly based on the cargo cults of the 40's, there is a very direct example of this happening in Germany in WWII. When the Brits invented the cavity magnetron they couldn't figure out how to switch microwave frequencies so their early radars has a complex and lossy system. But then they made the Sutton tube, which was a tube with no power inputs, the dilute gas inside would ionize and complete the connection. The Germans captured one, but had no idea how it worked. Their microwave radars sucked as a result of using the original solution. – Maury Markowitz Oct 29 '17 at 14:33
  • @Whit3rd, I read The Space Winners, and that was the story I was looking for! Thanks! It's a novel rather than a short story, and the aliens did not copy the power cord as I thought I remembered, but the problem was indeed that they didn't understand electricity (and so didn't see the relevance of the power cord). – Brent Johnson Oct 30 '17 at 22:59
  • Well, @Maury Markowitz, I found it interesting. Thanks. – Brent Johnson Oct 30 '17 at 22:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.