37

Years ago (1960s? 1970s?) I read a collection of short stories among which was a story about a large, lone seated figure on a discovered planet. Memory is vague but as I remember, it is unclear if the figure is a statue or possibly alive.

After quite some time passes and many tests are done, one person standing near the figure asks a (rhetorical?) question. The figure stands to deliver the answer then once again sits. The realization of the observer is "Of course, it only stands to reason."

1
  • I don't have enough information for an answer, but Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine usually had a "punny" short-story by Asimov, and I think I remember one story where some robot-like being would stand up, make a rational statement, then sit back down - with the final line, being your title-question. It's possible the story was that Spider Robinson story, of course. – John C Sep 27 '20 at 23:25
43
+500

This is "A Voice Is Heard in Ramah ..." by Spider Robinson, first published in Analog, November 1975 and subsequently appearing in several of the Callahan collections.

The background for Callahan's (the eponymous bar of the series) is that periodically they have competitions for the worst pun; this scene takes place on one of those nights.

Long-Drink led off, his eyes filled with that terrible gleam that presages a true stinker. They call him Long-Drink because he is one long drink of water; when he sits he looks like he's standing, and when he stands he looks like three other guys. He doesn't mass much more than a pickup truck, and he's the only man I know who can talk and drink whiskey at the same time. He does a lot of both.

"Gentlemen," he drawled, demonstrating the trick, "the story I am about to relate takes place in the distant future. Interstellar travel is commonplace; contacts with aliens are familiar experiences. One day, however, a planet is discovered out Antares way whose sole inhabitant is an enormous humanoid, three miles high and made of granite. At first it is mistaken for an immense statue left by some vanished race of giants, for it squats motionless on a yellow plain, exhibiting no outward sign of life. It has legs, but never rises to walk on them. It has a mouth, but never eats or speaks. It has what appears to be a perfectly functional brain, the size of a four-story condominium, but the organ lies dormant, electrochemical activity at a standstill. Yet it lives.

"This puzzles the hell out of the scientists, who try everything they can to get some sign of life from the behemoth-in vain. It just squats, motionless and seemingly thoughtless, until one day a xenobiologist, frustrated beyond endurance, screams, 'How could evolution give legs, mouth and brain to a creature that doesn't use them?'

"It happens that he's the first one to ask a direct question in the thing's presence-it rises with a thunderous rumble to its full height, scattering the clouds, thinks for a second, booms, 'IT COULDN'T,' and squats down again.

"'Migod,' exclaims the xenobiologist, 'Of course! It only stands to reason.'"

There was an extended pause, in which the sound of Long-Drink blinking was plainly audible. Then a hailstorm of glasses, full and empty, burst in the fireplace, loud enough to drown out the collective groan. Doc Webster's eyes rolled briefly, like loaded dice, and came up snake eyes. Callahan began passing out fresh drinks with a slightly stunned expression.

4
  • 2
    It's suggested that further comments by in​sti​ga​tor/author of question is not for showing appreciation for response(s). Am surprised there are two versions extant. I've been cudgeling my gray matter trying to dredge further details when began to feel I should check Spider Robinson. Am glade to know was on right track. Appreciate both & will attempt to acquire same. Lost large library of books in storage. Financial issues. Am re-acquiring what can when possible. Somewhat surprised. Quick results. I express appreciation despite suggestion not. Paronomasians, go forth & pun-tificate. – Quisizyx Sep 26 '20 at 7:13
  • 2
    Would have accepted both answers, as each are valid published and sold printings. Stack Exchange only allows one. Selected first published. Once again, as contraindicated, my appreciation. – Quisizyx Sep 26 '20 at 23:04
  • 4
    I have heard a continuation: Once the giant has stood for a while, somebody speculates aloud that it can't just sit and stand at that spot - it must go somewhere else to eat. Then, ponderously, the giant starts to move towards (a forest?), and the xenobiologist exclaims: "Aha! It only goes to show!" – Klaus Æ. Mogensen Sep 28 '20 at 13:41
  • Klaus Æ. Mogensen — Interesting. So there may be a third flavor of this story. If you have further details I would be interested. I will attempt a search based on "Aha! It only goes to show!" a nd see what results. Thnx. – Quisizyx Sep 30 '20 at 7:40
50
+500

This sounds like a "feghoot" (Wikipedia: a humorous short story or vignette ending in a pun where the story contains sufficient context to recognize the punning humor). I believe it is "A Standing Joke" by Spider Robinson, published in 1980. You can find it here, but I'll just quote the first and final paragraphs:

In the year 2744 a human survey team discovered a planet whose sole inhabitant was an enormous humanoid, three miles high and made of something very like granite. At first it was mistaken for an immense statue left by some vanished race of giants, for it squatted motionless on a vast rocky plain, exhibiting no outward sign of life. It had legs (two), but apparently never rose to walk on them. It had a mouth, but never ate or spoke. It had what appeared to be a perfectly functional brain, the size of a fifty-story condominium, but the organ lay dormant, electrochemical activity at a standstill. Yet it lived.

...one day a xenobiologist, frustrated beyond endurance, screamed, “How could evolution give legs, mouth and brain to a creature that doesn’t use them?”

It happened that he was the first one to ask a direct question in the thing’s presence. It rose with a thunderous rumble to its full height, scattering the clouds, pondered for a second, boomed, “IT COULDN'T,” and squatted down again.

“Migod,” exclaimed the xenobiologist. “Of course! It only stands to reason.

10
  • 14
    groan I have to share this with the world. – FuzzyBoots Sep 25 '20 at 14:55
  • 6
    It took me like five times rereading this to get the joke, but once I did, I am definitely keeping this in my repertoire of bad puns. – Giuseppe Sep 25 '20 at 15:08
  • 13
    @Giuseppe If you need more bad puns, then you should definitely read the Callahan collections; that said, there isn't much other reason to read them... – DavidW Sep 25 '20 at 15:29
  • 4
    Oh my goodness that’s such an excellently awful joke. – Fivesideddice Sep 26 '20 at 9:04
  • 8
    "A Standing Joke" I take it that's in contrast with a running gag? – Acccumulation Sep 27 '20 at 4:29

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.