Mike Ashley, in his book Science Fiction Rebels: The Story of Science-Fiction Magazines from 1981 to 1990, did not get everything right, alas. In describing the stories in the Mid-December 1983 issue of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, he badly characterizes one of my favorite stories from that period, “Reasonable Doubt.”
This clever effort,
the debut story by Fred Singer, considers the violent attitude of certain humans towards aliens who are trying to foster relationships with Earth.
Now, I do not want give away the story, here, but it deals with what we might call the is/ought problem inherent in some popular forms of Social Darwinism. The premise of the tale is that humanity differs from the successful galactic species by being competitive and individualistic — and violent. This passage explains the story’s main thrust:
It is not primarily about violent humans thinking dark thoughts about the newly-arrived aliens, not really. That would be the knee-jerk mod-lib misinterpretation. It is about aliens judging humans for humamity’s reactionary tendencies.
The aliens, are old-fashioned Progressive/new-fashioned alt-righters. They worry about what to do about the “problem” of a quick-adapting species that could disrupt the galaxy’s civilized order, spreading the poison of violence.
The aliens’ eventual plan, stated in the story’s opening, is to destroy the human species — or perhaps transform it in some twisted way so that it would become more like every other galactic species. That is, conformist and collectivist.
This being a human-centered story, the aliens’ intention is not considered a good thing: the predicament drives the plot, which ends in police over-reaction. The story, then, could be interpreted as a repudiation of modern, progressive prejudices — and conservative ones as well.
The two things that trouble the aliens the most? Humanity’s universal incest taboo and common belief in some form of a deity.
The former idea, merely mentioned in conversations within the story, helped give rise to complaints about the editorial direction Isaac Asimov’s was heading, towards increasing sex and violence, as Mike Ashley explains in his book. I tend to dismiss such complaints as prudery. Nothing sexual in this story, anyway, can be considered gratuitous. It is classic stefnal story-telling. And the reason for the one element of sexuality? Because sex is a huge part of almost all animal life, and if a species is to be judged. . . .
Which is what the story is, a Day of Judgment tale.
Yes, humans are violent. But Homo sapiens is the only pre-space civilizing species, the story’s alien relates, that, while being based on individuality and competition — and conflict, too — has conceived of “non-aggression” as well as concocted gods to nudge the species somewhat forward out of its violent past.
The narrator is a well-to-do lawyer, and he it takes upon himself to come to his kind’s defense.
I know nothing about the author, this Fred Singer. (I am pretty sure that the Fred Singer I have met isn’t he.) I have not seen any more of his work.
But I like this story, which I think should be dragged out of the memory hole and read by today’s sf readers. Maybe it should be anthologized. Perhaps the Sad Puppies might find something of interest here.