Robert Sheckley's "Hunting Problem" (short story, science fiction, humor, free): Alien can be totally incomprehensible!
My introduction to Sheckley came via "A Wind Is Rising". That was the wrong story to get introduced to author. This is the right one. I would have picked up my second Sheckley much earlier if I'd read this. Beautiful.
Story summary."Elbonai" - an alien world, & also the name of the race of local intelligent beings - far advanced compared to us. They float up in the sky, take cosmic radiation for food, are shape shifters, ...
But they were not always like this. Eons back, their ancestors had been land dwellers with needs similar to humans. They'd come from somewhere to colonize this world - killing off a lot of local life in the process, among them a species called "Miresh".
It's currently a fad to spend at least some time on ground in a physical form similar to their ancestors, & living off land like they did! Sort of alien steampunk.
Drog is a very lazy young scout doing this retro thing as a member of "Charging Mirash Patrol, number 19" - one of the groups of scouts. Some scouts have recently spotted a herd of 3 bull Miresh somewhere away from Scouts' ground camp - these animals were supposed to be extinct.
To win special honors at forthcoming "Scouter Jamboree", a festival where Patrols compete, Drog has accepted a challenge from his Leader: to go hunt one of these Mirash, & bring back its pelt for display during Jamboree - but using ancestral hunting techniques.
Story is a sometimes very amusing account of his hunt, as Mirash prove to be more trouble than expected. He will eventually succeed in getting the hide, but Mirash are a tough lot & can live through a skinning! Happy enough ending for all concerned.
Fact sheet.First published: Galaxy Science Fiction, September 1955.
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Related: All stories of Robert Sheckley.