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I read a short story when I was younger, but it's been on my mind lately for some reason and I'd like to try to find it - does anyone know what the title/author is?: What I can recall:

  • the story must have been published at least 35 years ago
  • it involves an alien ambassador to Earth (I believe, the first contact species, or only other alien race known)
  • I think the alien was horse-like
  • when the is happy, it blinks fast (rather than smiling)
  • the alien meets with its Earth counterpart for a meal at her house
  • the husband of its counterpart is very uneasy with the alien
  • some sort of argument occurs
  • the alien gets killed (might be accidental)

1 Answer 1

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Hostess by Isaac Asimov.

The ambassador is Harg Tholan and he is a Hawkinsite. The story describes him as bovine rather than horse-like:

Harg Tholan was standing quietly in the middle of the living room when she came down the stairs. He was not sitting, since he was not anatomically constructed to sit. He stood on two sets of limbs placed close together, while a third pair entirely different in construction were suspended from a region that would have been the upper chest in a human being. The skin of his body was hard, glistening and ridged, while his face bore a distant resemblance to something alienly bovine.

The mention of blinking is:

The Hawkinsite blinked its eyes rapidly. Rose recalled this to be a gesture of amusement.

There is a lot more to the story than you remember:

Tholan has come to Earth to investigate a parasite that infests humans and causes their short life span. Rose's husband kills him to stop him revealing his findings about the parasite.

The story has been asked about before in Sci-fi story about aliens with cells based on arsenic or nitrogen, poisoned by oxygen, thought the details you remember are rather different to the descriptions in the other questions.

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    Nice catch! - I was thrown off by "equine" instead of "bovine" Jan 20, 2021 at 16:19
  • I have to ask if the story has this line in it: "You are an excellent host" - directed at the wife, I think? And the husband had a negative response to that, due to reasons in the spoiler. There's some story I barely remember, with that line - given this is by Asimov, that may be it.
    – John C
    Jan 21, 2021 at 17:13
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    @JohnC the text is: The Hawkinsite, at the end of the long evening, had turned to her and said gravely, “Good night, Mrs. Smollett. You are a most charming hostess." She had desperately wanted to giggle at the time. How could he call her a charming hostess? To him, she could only be a horror, a monstrosity with too few limbs and a too-narrow face. And then, as the Hawkinsite delivered himself of this completely meaningless piece of politeness, Drake had turned white! For one instant, his eyes had burned with something that looked like terror. Jan 21, 2021 at 17:17
  • @JohnRennie thanks for this! I haven't read the spoilers - I also have the vague recollection that there was more to this story than I remember, hence why I'm interested in reading it again. I suspect there're a lot of scifi shorts I read when I was too young to pick up on the wider implications/subtleties that would bear a re-read. Originally published in "Nightfall and other stories" (although I probably didn't read it there), which is due for re-publication this summer: blackwells.co.uk/bookshop/product/…
    – Steve
    Jan 31, 2021 at 10:09

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