Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Bertram Chandler's "Familiar Pattern" (novelette, science fiction, free): A replay of European colonization of other lands some centuries ago

Quote from short story titled Familiar Pattern by A Bertram Chandler writing as George WhitleyChandler summarizes colonization pattern of that era in a template: "the chance contact, the trader, the missionary, the incident, and the gunboat", ... Only, in this story, the natives are earthmen, & colonists are aliens. Very well told story, though the later parts are a bit rushed.

Note the aliens in this story don't quite look alien. In fact, they are very human - even on first contact, they are able to eat our food & vice-versa, not to speak of other similarities like physical appearance. Point of this story is the dramatization of the colonization pattern.

Story summary.

Captain Lessing is in charge of "Woollabra" - a sea-going merchant vessel somewhere near Australia on a routine run. At night, he's awakened with reports of the sightings of a curious contraption lying on water - obviously capable of flight, but unlike any known airplane, & too big to be a satellite.

Further investigations will show it to be a "pineapple"-shaped starship named "Starlady". First contact is easy; aliens have a wearable "psionic translator" for communications. One f humans visits alien ship, an alien visits human ship. Humans are told the alien ship was forced to land in the sea because they had a water leak & earth was easiest to get to; they are here to get some water from the sea.

And that they thought earth was uninhabited - ha, we will later be told they listened to radio broadcasts & took pictures! But the humans play gullible - buy the uninhabited argument easily enough. Their is also some trade - cigarettes, match sticks, alcohol from humans in exchange from solar powered torches & cigarette equivalents from aliens.

Aliens depart. Human crew of the ship will be put to a lot of grilling by media & government, even though no one can explain the traded gadgets. During the grilling, alien ship lands again - & those on board want to talk to Lessing.

During the talks, aliens make the proposal. They will set up a trading outpost on earth - only harmless goods like all-season clothes that never get dirty (but don't ask for antigravity, stardrive, or other advanced stuff). Lessing will be their agent. An alien named Korring vis Korring will be overall in-charge of this trading outpost.

Well - traders come, along with scientists & priests & sundry others. The priests set up their own church. A while later, local mobs attack the church because of its alien ways & the local interests that are getting compromised. Riots will see the killing of priest & couple of other aliens, along with many humans.

We will soon learn the alien military ships are in orbit around earth for retaliation. Some earth cities destroyed, men on the run.

We are left to guess what is yet to come, with this hint (Tom is a Polynesian):
"The chance contact—The trader—The missionary—The incident—And the gunboat—"
"And after the gunboat?" asked Lessing.
"We learned the answer to that question many years ago," said Tom. "Now it's your turn."

Fact sheet.

First published: Astounding Science Fiction, August 1959 as by George Whitley.
Rating: A
Download full text from Internet Archive.
Included in Ellen Datlow's Sci Fiction classics.