I'm trying to locate a story from the early 1970's. The protagonist was a pilot from Earth engaged in an invasion of another planet. The Earth ships, operating in space, were not aerodynamic. The pilot's rival was a pilot defending the planet being attacked. Their ships, which had to pass through the planet's atmosphere, were sleek and beautiful. The story builds towards their encounter, where the defending pilot out fights the protagonist, but spares him. The Earth pilot pays tribute to his rival, calling him an incomparable master of the air.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. Was this part of a novel or a short story? Do you recall where you read it?
    – DavidW
    Jun 7 at 13:07

1 Answer 1


I believe this is "Common Denominator" (1972) by David Lewis, published in Analog, October 1972.

What should I do? No doubt if he had an ounce of engine power left, he would ram. But I was not a Saterii. I thought differently. I used different standards. When I returned to Polar Star, I would be going to Captain Stephens to get myself discharged. That much I owed to Benj. That much I owed to myself. But first there was something I owed to my foe, to the man in orange, that incomparable master of the air.

I stood up in my seat, gestured at the wreckage sprawled between us, and then, with that involuntary twist of the lips, that rare and fleeting smile so patently impossible to resist, I saluted. And across the savage place of battle, my enemy did the same.

  • I think that's it! Thanks!
    – Dave
    Jun 8 at 13:16
  • 1
    @Dave You're welcome! You should mark this answer as accepted by clicking the checkmark in the upper left of the answer (under the voting arrows). That will help future searchers find this answer more easily.
    – DavidW
    Jun 8 at 13:25

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