Can anyone name this short story? I read it in an anthology before 1997.

A human explorer had a pet talking bird, partly for company and partly because it was good at telling which alien fruits were safe to eat. He was lost far from Earth and was nearly out of fuel. Fuel consisted of a fissionable wire stored on a drum.

He landed on a planet with a huge variety of plants. There seemed to be only one example of each species.

He saw something glowing at night. Following it, he found an alien building containing files of notes, written as patterns of dots melted into something like glass. The glowing thing was an alien scientist, and the life on the planet was its collection of specimens. He considered the alien to be more God-like than humans. He never made direct contact with it.

In or near the building he found some drums of heavy wire, one of which turned out to be suitable for powering his ship. He set a long, spiralling course and eventually found a beacon to guide him home. The narrator suggested that the alien "may have" included a description of the man and bird in its notes, having been aware of them all along, and may have described both as "fairly successful."


1 Answer 1


Hobbyist by Eric Frank Russell. The story has been widely collected over the decades. I read it as a boy back in the 1970s and can no longer recall where I read it, but the story made such an impression on me that I remember it 50 years later!

The ending you remember is:

In simplest sense, one plate may have been inscribed, "Biped, erect, pink, homo intelligens type P.739, planted on Sol III, Condensation Arm BDB—moderately successful."

Similarly, the other plate may have recorded, "Flapwing, large, hook-beaked, vari-colored, periquito macao type K.8, planted on Sol III, Condensation Arm BDB—moderately successful."

But already the sparkling hobbyist had forgotten his passing notes. He was breathing his essence upon a jeweled moth

The bird is a macaw called Laura:

"Breathable," he grunted, clipping down the register's lid. Crossing the tiny control room, he slid aside a metal panel, looked into the padded compartment behind. "Coming out, Beauteous?" he asked.

"Steve loves Laura?" inquired a plaintive voice.

"You bet he does!" he responded with becoming passion. He shoved an arm into the compartment, brought out a large, gaudily colored macaw. "Does Laura love Steve?"

The protagonist, Steve Ander, recalls being told in training:

"Lonely men, probing beyond the edge of the charts, get queer psychological troubles. They need an anchor to Earth. A macaw provides the necessary companionship—and more! It's the space-hardiest bird we've got, its weight is negligible, it can talk and amuse, it can fend for itself when necessary. On land, it will often sense dangers before you do. Any strange fruit or food it may eat is safe for you to eat. Many a man's life has been saved by his macaw. Look after yours, my boy, and it'll look after you!"

  • 3
    I read this 40+ years ago when I was ten in a German translation ("Der Bastler") in the Ullstein 2000 series of anthologies, and I was sure that this is it after reading the title of the question. Really one of those stories that stick. May 22, 2023 at 11:46
  • If accepted, a dupe of scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/153721/…
    – FuzzyBoots
    May 22, 2023 at 12:03

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