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I am trying to rediscover a short science fiction story/article. It was about an alien on Earth trying to make a getaway in an ordinary automobile and of course finding the whole thing pretty much impossible, as he didn't know in which order the controls needed to be operated (switch on ignition, engage drive, press accelerator etc) and tried all kinds of combinations without getting anywhere.

I am pretty sure it was from the 1950s or 1960s and that it was intended as a parody of early pulp tales (eg E.E. "Doc" Smith etc) where characters just jump into alien spaceships and blast off.

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  • When did you read it? Please read our guide to improve your question. Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 21:14
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    Hmm. Didn't Zoot Marlowe do exactly this? (But this is a novel)
    – Spencer
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 22:28
  • Are you sure it was science fiction? Diana Wynne Jones wrote a short story about a wizard who stole a car and had trouble driving it.
    – NiceOrc
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 0:15
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    What is that other story you mentioned, where a human leaps into an alien spacecraft and drives off without any trouble? I don't think I read that one.
    – user14111
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 0:59
  • I remember that story vaguely but I don't know the title either.... sorry! But! I can reassure you that you aren't imagining it and that yes, it was about an alien. This excerpt is from my copy of "Oracle SQL Tuning with Oracle SQLTXPLAIN" by Stelios Charalambides: > Be like the alien who came to earth to try his hand at driving. He'd > read all about it and knew the physics involved in the engine. It > sounded like fun. He sat down in the driver's seat and turned the > ignition; the engine ticked over nicely, and the electrics were on. He > put his seatbelt on and tentatively pressed th
    – Yammerhant
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 17:43

2 Answers 2

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I think I've found it - "So I Jumped Into the Alien Vehicle. A Turnabout Suspension of Disbelief"

An essay by Donald L. Franson from 1961 in which he says:

The minute I saw that alien auto or helicopter, I knew the hero was going to jump into it, fiddle with the controls for a moment or two until he got the hang of them, and then shoot skyward just in time to elude the hordes of local avengers, who rush to their own machines but have trouble getting them out of the parking lot.

Now the part I object to is not the hero's daring in taking this action — this is logical in his harrowing situation, and in the tradition of cliff-hanging. No, it's the ten-second, self-help driving course that gets me.

....and then he launches into a short-short story about an alien trying (and failing) to make a getaway in a human automobile...

Back in Aldebaran, I was always taught in the science fiction magazines to try everything, so I grabbed the big wheel which was so obviously a valve, and turned it courageously all the way to the right; then still hopefully, all the way to the left. Nothing. There was a lever below the valve which I was able to bend into various positions, but with no results.

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Could you be thinking of Nicholas Fisk's "Sweets From a Stranger", which I got identified for me on Literature Stack Exchange a few months ago?

The opening scene of the story, the heroine (a girl called Tina Halliday) sees a strange man in a car asking her to get in, and offering her sweets. She's been well taught by her parents not to get into cars with strangers, but she eventually understands that this man is an alien who genuinely doesn't know how cars work.

The story ends with an ironic reversal of the opening scene, which I won't spoil for you (if you've read the story, you'll know what I mean). The whole story can be read on the Internet Archive.

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  • Ha! Too clever by half.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 20:55
  • The whole story can be read .. if you use your free account.
    – Peter M
    Commented May 31, 2021 at 18:42

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