I read a short story (I think, but it might have been a novel), where most races discover a very easy way to travel faster than light at a certain point in their technological development.

What I remember:

  • The guys in wooden ships bounced around subjugating the people without FTL travel.
  • Earth had never figured out the FTL, and so had poured its effort in a different path, achieving present day technology.
  • The aliens were freaking out about handing the humans FTL travel.
  • The story was told from the point of view of the aliens.
  • I read it in the last 10 years, but there is no telling how old it actually was, although I do remember them mentioning F-18s or F-14s.
  • @dmckee none. I typed the stuff I knew in and checked the suggested questions that popped up to make sure that none seemed like the story I read. I actually clicked that question, but the thing about balloons didn't ring any bells and I never read Analog so I didn't think that was it. So I hit post. But yeah, now that I read the story, it is definitely it. Mar 23, 2013 at 3:39
  • @buzz - Edits should be meaningful and substantial. The occasional punctuation correction is acceptable but not multiple minor corrections in a short period of time
    – Valorum
    Jun 10, 2018 at 1:07
  • re: reopen vote -- The duplicate target is a different story called "Herbig-Haro," which is a much more obscure follow-up to the "The Road Not Taken."
    – Otis
    Aug 24, 2018 at 13:15
  • 1
    @Otis, If I recall correctly, this was discussed at length on TREU and it was decided that duplicating in this direction was better than in the other direction. As had been previously done. I believe a moderator was in the decision to vote to close in this direction. The decision was made based on the fact the story that is the answer to this question was answered extensively in the duplicate.
    – Edlothiad
    Aug 24, 2018 at 13:40
  • @Otis related chat transcript that Ed was talking about. For what it's worth :)
    – Jenayah
    Aug 24, 2018 at 13:44

1 Answer 1


I believe you are referring to the Harry Turtledove novelette: "The Road Not Taken", first published in Analog, 1985.

"The Road Not Taken" posits that the secret of interstellar travel is an absurdly simple technological concept (so much so that it seems obvious in retrospect, like the wheel), and yet Earth, by sheer happenstance, never stumbles upon it. Later, Earth is invaded by aliens in wooden spaceships armed with cannons and black powder muskets... who are confronted by humans who, having never discovered FTL drives, have instead devoted their research to other scientific pursuits, such as weapons that outclass the invaders' by centuries of development.

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