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After seeing the trailer for the new film 'Don't Look Up' I was reminded of this short story I read many years ago (1980s?)

Astronomers realize some cosmic disaster is going to hit an inhabited planet. The disaster is something like a solar flare event, still a few years off.

They haven't contacted the planet before to avoid damaging their (mediaeval-like?) society. They only know the planet's inhabitants have no science knowledge and want to warn them.

So someone is dispatched to explain everything they need to know to prepare for the event. He lands somewhere out of the way and approaches people to ask them to 'take me to your leader' effectively.

Surprisingly, he is met with hostility. The natives refuse to believe anything he says and won't tell him anything... for free.

In their culture they pay for news. 'News' offered for free is considered suspect and almost certainly lies with devious intent. He realises he will have to earn some money just to ask people questions, and how is he going to get people to buy his news?

It turns out they have a profession like a strolling player who travels from town to town presenting news as an entertainment.

The visitor has a couple of years left, so he enrolls as an apprentice newsman and travels the world, gradually becoming more famous and commanding bigger and richer audiences.

Finally, the planet's ruler demands he give a royal command performance and he is able to deliver his news about the upcoming disaster before it's too late.

It stuck in my mind. Did it stuck in anyone else's?

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2 Answers 2

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I suspect that you're thinking of "The Tryouts" (1978) by Barry B. Longyear.

The story is framed as a news telling around a fire; the protagonist of the story-within-the-story is Lord Ashly Allenby, who has been dispatched by The Council of Seven of the "Ninth Quadrant Federation of Habitable Planets" to Momus, to warn the people of Momus that the Tenth Quadrant is planning to invade and occupy their planet as a forward base.

Allenby has trouble finding transport to Momus, since there is no regular service, and takes passage on a freighter going in the right general direction. He steals an escape pod from the freighter to get to Momus, and lands with little more than the clothes on his back. He discovers that his money is worthless, and that he is expected to pay for everything, including explanations and simple directions.

But he discovers that the culture of Momus doesn't have a central government, and indeed there is nobody willing to listen to his news; he is forced to apprentice himself to Boosthit, a travelling newsteller, in order to spread his story.

The story was first published in IASFM, November-December 1978, and collected as part of Longyear's 1981 Circus World collection (stories set on Momus). You can read the story at the Internet Archive.

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    Oddly enough, I was remembering that story just a couple of days ago, as a way to amuse myself while I did some rather monotonous work.
    – Lorendiac
    Apr 8 at 22:52
  • I seem to have misremembered much of this. The names and title don't ring a bell but I do remember the sitting around the fire. Odd that I should be reminded by the natural dusaster theme when it wasn't even in the story. Suppose I conflated it with something else. Thanks. Apr 9 at 13:25
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In a comment, you mention that you might have conflated "The Tryouts" with something else. It's possible that you were thinking of Isaac Asimov's novel The Currents of Space, where a scientist flies to the planet Sark to warn that the neighboring planet Florina, whose inhabitants are mostly uneducated peasants, will be destroyed by

a supernova.

That might be what you remembered as a solar flare.

However, he meets opposition from a disbelieving government official and is treated with a psychic probe, leading to

amnesia. He then lives among the peasants on Florina for a time while he recovers his memory, eventually making it back to Sark and warning of the coming disaster.

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    +1, though given the order in which the story is told, I think you've spoiler-tagged the wrong bits!
    – ruakh
    Apr 9 at 22:05
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    @ruakh I tried to preserve some of the mysteries of the book: who is the scientist, what's going to happen to Florina (IIRC, we're told in the first chapter that it will be destroyed, but not how), who is the psychic prober, and who is Rik. Apr 9 at 22:42
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    Except that it's a novel and Ive never really been a reader of novels. I'm a short story person. But I have read a lot of Asimov shorts. Apr 10 at 20:16

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