I remember that back in 80s I read a short SF story about aliens who crossed interstellar distances to arrive at Earth, and somehow managed it with only vacuum tube technology. The story was definitely written after vacuum tubes became obsolete because part of the appeal of the story was "ooh, how could aliens go interstellar with only vacuum tubes?"

Does anyone know the title and author?

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    There are a whole bunch of stories about hick aliens coming to visit/conquer Earth
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 0:15
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    In the 80s the Soviet Air Force operated the MIG-25 high altitude interceptor which had vacuum tube based avionics. Whether it was made that way because of a lack of solid state semiconductors or because tubes are thought to be resistant/immune to the effects of nuclear weapon related EMPs, I don’t know for certain. In any case, the obsolescence of tubes is somewhat exaggerated. AM radio transmitters still use tubes today because it’s the only way to modulate effectively at the power levels used for broadcast. Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 4:49
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    @ToddWilcox Tubes are still (literally) hot when it's not computing but the physics that count: The 11 Greatest Vacuum Tubes You’ve Never Heard Of, although their use for digital computing and even analog computing where you want to as low as possible on power and area usage is definitely over. Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 13:07
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    While I think that @JohnRennie's answer is correct, the first thing I thought of was "Like Banquo's Ghost", a short story from the late 60's by Larry Niven. Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 15:09

1 Answer 1


Possible The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything by George Alec Effinger. It was published in 1984 so it fits with your time frame. I read it in the anthology Alien Contact but it has been published in lots of anthologies.

As narrated by one of the aliens:

All our spacecraft operate on vacuum tubes. They take up a hell of a lot of space. And they burn out. Do you know how long it takes to find the goddamn tube when it burns out? Remember how people used to take bags of vacuum tubes from their television sets down to the drugstore to use the tube tester? Think of doing that with something the size of our mother ships. And we can’t just zip off into space when we feel like it. We have to let a mother ship warm up first. You have to turn the key and let the thing warm up for a couple of minutes, then you can zip off into space. It’s a goddamn pain in the neck.”

The aliens are called the nuhp, and while they are benign they are super annoying:

On the whole, everyone began to like the nuhp, although they took just a little getting used to. They had very definite opinions about everything, and they wouldn’t admit that what they had were opinions. To hear a nuhp talk, he had a direct line to some categorical imperative that spelled everything out in terms that were unflinchingly black and white. Hollyhocks were the best flower. Alexander Dumas was the greatest novelist. Powder blue was the prettiest color. Melancholy was the most ennobling emotion. Grand Hotel was the finest movie. The best car ever built was the 1956 Chevy Bel Air, but it had to be aqua and white. And there just wasn’t room for discussion: the nuhp made these pronouncements with the force of divine revelation.

In the end the nuhp conquer Earth simply because everyone gets fed up of them and moves to other planets:

They were all populated by charming, warm, intelligent, humanlike people who had left their own home worlds after being discovered by the nuhp. Many races lived together in peace and harmony on these planets, in spacious cities newly built to house the fed-up expatriates. Perhaps these alien races had experienced the same internal jealousies and hatreds we human beings had known for so long, but no more. Coming together from many planets throughout our galaxy, these various peoples dwelt contentedly beside each other, united by a single common aversion: their dislike for the nuhp.

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    I do think Nuph have taken over a lot of key positions in the Real World. Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 12:43
  • If this answer is accepted, the question is a duplicate of scifi.stackexchange.com/q/240693/28516 Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 20:23
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    @OrganicMarble, while the answer may be the same, that doesn't make the questions duplicate. There is no mention of vacuum tubes in the other question OR answer.
    – MivaScott
    Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 22:31
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    @OrganicMarble, I see the thread about closing dupes, but someone else bought up the question of multiple questions that just happen to have the same answer. That's like saying a question about hitchhiking aliens should be closed because someone already asked about blowing up a planet to make a hyperspace bypass.
    – MivaScott
    Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 23:21
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    @MivaScott discussions about the dupe policy should be done in meta. Signing off. Commented Feb 7, 2021 at 23:22

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