Sunday, June 20, 2010

William Tenn's "The Ghost Standard" (short story, farce): Defining what is "human"

This is probably the last published story of Tenn.

Story summary.

This is set as legal dilemma resulting from a case of cannibalism aboard a lifeboat: Juan Kydd, a human, & Tuezuzim, "a sapient lobstermorph" alien, both equally skilled computer programmers, are stranded on a lifeboat after a deep space shipwreck. Without food. Only one of them can survive to rescue by eating the other.

To decide, they play the word game "Ghost", with ship's computer acting as referee & executor. Juan wins, & during trial later, the galactic legalese gets a new definition of when an intelligence - alien, machine, whatever - is legally "human": "Intelligence has always been extremely difficult to define precisely, but it will be here & henceforth understood to involve the capacity to understand & play the terrestrial game of Ghost."

See also.

  1. Arthur Clarke's "Breaking Strain": Meteor hit has drained most oxygen off a spaceship, so only one of its two passengers (or is it 2 of 3?) can survive to rescue. Who is to die?

Fact sheet.

First published: Playboy, December 1994.
Rating: B.
Related: Stories of William Tenn.