Monday, 19 August 2013


"Strangers" is a short story by Poul Anderson, originally published in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, January 1988, and collected in All One Universe (New York, 1997). Strangers From Earth is an earlier collection by Anderson but could equally be the title of "Strangers."

Anderson's Introduction to "Strangers" informs us that this story is hard sf. Thus, references in the opening paragraph to "...a ghost..." and to "...campfires of the dead..." describe phenomena as perceived by the first person narrator but we have been forewarned not to suppose that anything here is supernatural.

In the second paragraph, the narrator informs us that he has fur and tendrils so he is not a human being and we are probably on another planet. In the following paragraphs, we learn that he has a fin and a tail and is quadruped. He also refers to "...the Night Folk." (p. 3)

In fantasy, beings called "Night Folk" will almost certainly be supernatural. In hard sf, they are likely to be nocturnal beings rarely glimpsed by their diurnal counterparts and believed to be supernatural. In this case, they turn out to be human colonists of a planet whose solar radiation is deadly to Terrestrial organisms. When the narrator meets and describes "[h]e of the Night...," (p. 11) tall, tailless, furless, flat-faced, we think, "This sounds like a human being...," except for the "beak" but that is the narrator's only word for a nose.

Thus, Anderson reverses everything and we are bound to ask, "Who are the strangers?" 


Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

And one thing I noticed about "Strangers" is how shortlived the non humans are compared to the humans. That too strengthens the analogy of the humans playing the role of "immortal" elves to the short lived non humans.


Paul Shackley said...