In this story, probably in Analog or Asimov's back in the 20th century, a group of humans are on a distant planet: I forget whether they are just exploring or setting up to colonize the place. A local sophont befriends them, then witnesses a murder of one of the crew by another. Said alien is unexpectedly unable to identify the murderer, but when the murderer is made to get angry, the alien can match on the irateness using its exotic sonar-like senses. The story also has a odd socio-economic bent; the crew discusses having to pay a bond for the murdered victim, who (of course) wasn't well-liked.

  • 1
    The "20th Century" ran for a while, got something more specific?
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jun 18 at 17:23
  • @FreeMan nah, it was gone in a flash Commented Jun 18 at 22:00
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    FreeMan: it was probably in the 70's or 80's, but I don't really recall when.
    – R. Darwin
    Commented Jun 18 at 23:01

2 Answers 2


This is The Purblind People by Don Trotter. It has only ever been published in Galaxy magazine, making this a testing identification.

The murder victim is Rodder and the discussion of the bond is:

Tarpi was astounded: He had never seen a dead person before. He bent and lifted a hand. He was amazed at how limp it was, with absolutely no muscle tone. And cold ... and heavy ... a clammy, useless thing that had once been somebody's right arm.

Stamm had been examining the angular growth of the dead buttress over their heads.

"It must have been a hell of a freak accident. The one loose branch on the whole tree, and he's standing under it the one instant when it decides to fall. The storm must have jostled it just enough that it was barely balanced, and af­terward, when Rodder came out here to the latrine-surprise! Well, let's get him back and chuck him in the hospital. Maybe this'll cut him down to size a little."

"I think it's too late for that, Stamm. He's already cold. He's been dead for a couple of days at least."

"Goddam. You mean we're going to have to pay off the bond on Rodder?" His tone implied that was like being fined for step­ping on a cockroach. "That will almost break the expedition. We'll never be able to show a profit if we have to pay off on that."

The aliens are referred to as Chimps, and the identification scene is:

"I should have explained. Tarpi has discovered that the Chimps are highly sensitive to the emotional states of other beings and that in fact they identify us largely on, uh, how our minds 'look' to them. When they saw you kill Rodder, you were in the grip of some very strong emotion. You had to be, to commit murder. Apparently the other times they saw you, when they tried to identify the murderer back at base, you were calmer and so you looked different to them. You're a very cool man, Janos: Usually."

"Be serious, Allis. I'd as lief be­lieve the entrails of a chicken as that story."

"We've tested them in several ways. Their ability is quite real. Quite repeatable, too, with a given person, although different people appear to change differently for the same emotion. Really very interest­ing. But what we would like you to do is to allow Lessiline, here, to regress you under hypnosis to the day Rodder was killed. In that way your mental state will du­plicate your mental state when Sodom and Gomorrah saw you kill Rodder, and they'll be able to iden­tify you."

  • What is meant by "a testing identification"? Does "testing" mean "difficult," i.e. this is a hard thing to identify because it's rare? Or is it that inclusion or non-inclusion of this story is used as a litmus-test, because its presence in a collection is proof that the collection is Galaxy magazine?
    – Tom
    Commented Jun 20 at 3:17
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    @Tom An identification that tested my mettle. Commented Jun 20 at 5:41
  • Thank you, John Rennie. These excerpts match my recollection exactly. I didn't realize it was that long ago though...
    – R. Darwin
    Commented Jun 20 at 19:57
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    @R.Darwin If I have the correct story please will you click the tick mark to the left of my answer to mark it as accepted. Thanks :-) Commented Jun 21 at 4:18

Almost certainly not the answer, but this plot resembles somewhat a short story of Larry Niven's, Grendel.

In that story, a Kldatyno alien sculptor, Lloobee, that is blind to visible light and uses radar, gets kidnapped. I seem to remember that the kidnappers enter into a nondisclosure agreement with the rescuer in order to keep their identities secret after the kidnapping is foiled and one of the kidnappers killed, but forget to include the sculptor in the agreement, possibly because they know it couldn't have seen them in the face, being blind; and once back home, it sculpts from memory a perfect 3D likeness of the criminals.

(Just for the record, I happen to remember also a story of Asimov's where a murderer is outed due to a person being "recognized only when angry" - it's the epilogue of Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids).

  • I remember "Grendel". Lloobee's sculptures were also perfect replicas regarding human tactile senses. Commented Jun 19 at 0:30

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