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I haven't read this story myself, but a friend recommended to me in a discussion, though unfortunately the friend in question didn't remember the name and couldn't find it on their own. It was supposedly award-winning and also relatively old - most likely written in the 20th century. From what the friend told me, the author was also explicitly heavily inspired by the cases of real life collapse of isolated tribes upon being contacted and wanted to write about that, but on a global scale.

The gist of the story is essentially that humanity entered contact with a friendly alien civilisation and begun freely trading with them, but the result was that alien goods and culture completely swarmed Earth to such an extent that it completely overwhelmed human culture and society, all but erasing what it means to be human, and plunging humanity into an identity crisis.

Does anyone know the name of the story or how to find it?

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  • Most likely not your story, but if that is a plot line that interests you and you have some sense of humor, you might want to read Michael Kandel's "Strange Invasion" (which is about tourism, not trade, but with equally unfavourable outcomes). Nov 25 at 9:16

4 Answers 4

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This is reminiscent of Tiptree's 1972 story And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side. An explicit comparison is made to Polynesia post-contact:

Everything going out, nothing coming back. Like the poor damned Polynesians.

The story also focuses on the psychological aspects of humanity's drive for exogamy causing people to be sexually attracted to the aliens which causes major problems - perhaps the 'identity crisis' you mention. It's referred to as a "cargo cult of the soul" (again a reference to Polynesia post-contact).

The story does not appear to have been "award-winning", but was nominated for the 1973 Hugo and Nebula awards.

The story can be read at the Internet Archive in the collection Her Smoke Rose Up Forever (free to check out).

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"Firewater", a novella by William Tenn; first published in Astounding Science Fiction, February 1952, available at the internet Archive.

Earth is visited by alien traders from the stars, with catastrophic cultural consequences. The analogy suggested by the title, between the introduction of alien ideas to Earth and the introduction of alcohol to the American Indians, is stated explicitly in the story:

"Listen to me, Braganza. We're up against the psycho-social consequences of an extremely advanced civilization hitting a comparatively barbarous one. Are you familiar with Professor Kleimbocher's Firewater Theory?"

"That the Alien's logic hits us mentally in the same way as whisky hit the North American Indian? And the Primeys, representing our finest minds, are the equivalent of those Indians who had the most sympathy with the white man's civilization? Yes. It's a strong analogy. Even carried to the Indians who, lying sodden with liquor in the streets of frontier towns, helped create the illusion of the treacherous, lazy, kill-you-for-a-drink aborigines while being so thoroughly despised by their tribesmen that they didn't dare go home for fear of having their throats cut. I've always felt—"

"The only part of that I want to talk about," Hebster interrupted, "is the firewater concept. Back in the Indian villages, an ever-increasing majority became convinced that firewater and gluttonous paleface civilization were synonymous, that they must rise and retake their land forcibly, killing in the process as many drunken renegades as they came across. This group can be equated with the Humanity Firsters. Then there was a minority who recognized the white man's superiority in numbers and weapons, and desperately tried to find a way of coming to terms with his civilization—terms that would not include his booze. For them read the UM. Finally, there was my kind of Indian."

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    I talked to that friend again and they recognised this as the correct answer. Thanks!
    – Mash
    Nov 25 at 11:41
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Could be Vernor Vinge Conquest By Default which appeared in Analog in 1969.

The aliens had a near-anarchic form of society, with virtually no government above the local level, except for the purpose of enforcing "antitrust" to prevent any government getting too powerful.

They do not regard humans as a species with rights, and we are in danger of genocide. However, a well-meaning alien obtains a ruling that we are "people" and entitled to the protection of Mikin society. However, this means we have to live by their rules, and, frex, Australia must split itself up into 100,000 self-governing units. When she realises this, the female protagonist feels that death would have been better than what she sees as cultural genocide, and throws her drink in the alien's face.

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  • As I understood from talking to my friend about this, the most identifiable attribute of the story in question is that the author explicitly said at some point that the story was directly inspired by the real life cases of isolated tribe collapse. Does this apply to Conquest By Default?
    – Mash
    Nov 24 at 12:37
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    "However, this means we have to live by their rules, and, frex, Australia mmust split itself up into 100,000 self-governing units." I don't know what is meant by "frex" here. "mmust" looks like a regular typo. Obviously "must" is meant. Nov 25 at 6:58
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    @FaheemMitha - I think it is an alien curse word.
    – Adamant
    Nov 25 at 7:09
  • 4
    Frex = slang for 'for example'?
    – GordonD
    Nov 25 at 8:12
  • having decentralization sounds like a good thing to me yesterday
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The details given fit the novel "First Contract", but given that the details are not very specific, it could fit other novels too.

However, this story is not award winning, as far as I know. It was also published in 2000. Whether that fits your timeline isn't clear.

It fits the "friendly alien civilization" part, more or less, as well as the "completely overwhelmed human culture and society" part. Bottom line - alien technology is so superior to Earth's technology that Earth's technology cannot compete. This causes economic collapse on Earth.

The aliens don't attempt any kind of criminal activities, like violently taking over any part of Earth. However, they don't seem at all concerned about the harmful effects they are having on Earth. Basically it's a satire of free markets/neoliberalism minus the more overt colonial aspects. Whether this counts as "friendly" is up for debate.

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