Saturday, February 16, 2013

Hal Clement's "Impediment" (novelette, communications): Telepathy considered impossible among humans

I must have read the "Best of Hal Clement" earlier. I don't remember many of its stories' titles, but as I begin reading a story, I discover I'd read it before. This one too is a reread, but one I'd forgotten so thoroughly I ended up finishing again.

Story summary.

This is a first contact story that focuses on possible difficulties in communicating with aliens. In this case, aliens are telepathic & can read imagery in your brain. And while they cannot speak audibly, they are not deaf; they can hear sounds of our speech.

And yet the communications are so hard as to be impossible. The difficulty lies in human comfort, rather need, to communicate in code - what our brain thinks, we must mostly code in symbols of speech. It's ok if the actual brainwaves generated by two individuals with the same thought differ, since they'll both render it in common code. Aliens don't understand this idea of translating to code, since they're used to direct communication of thoughts.

Giant insect-like alien visitors themselves are space pirates out of ammunition, & want arsenic here to make poison gas. A human insect researcher doing some field work north of Arctic Circle runs into them.

Fact sheet.

First published: Astounding, August 1942.
Among the stories from Astounding/Analog issues edited by John Campbell.
Rating: A.
Related: Stories of Hal Clement; fiction about language issues.