I cannot remember if this one is a novel, or a series, or an anthology. I can't even think of who the author is, except I'm confident that it's not Heinlein.

Humans have just discovered FTL and are conquering the space around their system. The story is from the point of view of a General or a politician, who is from an alien empire. Just as they decide to do something about it they receive a notice from a world they have never been able to communicate with, and it's a simple "Don't."

It's been at least 35 years since I read this and it's entirely possible I'm just remembering a mix and match of stories.

  • 1
    The description of the engines rising from the seas is definitely With Friends Like These;
    – Valorum
    Jan 6, 2018 at 10:50
  • I remember both stories. The latter is almost certainly "With Friends Like These". The former appeared -- I think -- in Astounding/Analog in the 60s. The Galaxy is a dog-eat-dog place and the newly rising humans are expected (by the aliens) to take their place in it. There are also a number of shielded worlds which the aliens fear, evidently with good reason.
    – Mark Olson
    Jan 6, 2018 at 13:16
  • When humanity is told that it must join the fray, it replies that it would rater try to learn to be peaceful like the shielded worlds. The aliens can't tolerate this and plan an attack. That's when they get the message, "Don't." (But I don't remember the author, the title, or the appearance beyond that I read it at least several decades ago and that it's very much JWC's ASF in flavor.)
    – Mark Olson
    Jan 6, 2018 at 13:17
  • @Mark Olson -- I think I once read that story in a 1960s issue of Analog and I think it was by Gordon R. Dickson. A quick look at his Bibliography doesn't find it for me, though. The alien races tended to believe there were "Dominant" and "Submissive" races. "Dominants" were empire-builders with aggressive instincts like hungry wolves. Humans had just won their first interstellar war, thus establishing their Dominant credentials as a wolf pack to be feared. But some aliens toyed with the idea that Humans were actually "Submissives who have learned how to win wars when attacked!"
    – Lorendiac
    Jan 6, 2018 at 14:38
  • @Lorendiac -- Yes, that's it. (The dominant and submissive part, I mean.) I don't know about GRD, but I have pretty much everything he wrote and I'll go check.
    – Mark Olson
    Jan 6, 2018 at 15:12

1 Answer 1


This is "Three Part Puzzle" by Gordy Dickson. The Conqueror species first encountered explains things to the humans, and Earth replies to the aliens:

We believe that our destiny lies neither within the pattern of conquest nor submission, but with the enlightened maturity of independence characterized by what are known as the Shielded Worlds; and, while not ceasing to defend our people and our borders from all attacks foreign and domestic, we intend to emulate these older, protected peoples in hope that they may eventually find us worthy of association.

The Chief of the Conqueror species dealing with humanity concluded that humans are dangerous is about to call the neighboring Conquerors into conference to plan an attack on Earth, when:

"From the Shielded Worlds--a Message" ... "Let me have it." ... "Never." said the Envoy softly, "Never in known history, have they communicated with any of us..." ... "Let's see what they have to say." The cylinder opened up like a flower... The message consisted of just one word. The word was: "No"

  • That was it. Thank you. I've just finished re-reading 'With Friends Like These' and it silenced the ... mental ear-worm that's been bugging me. Now to dig up the Gordon Dickson story.
    – harleypig
    Jan 6, 2018 at 18:52

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