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This brings back memories. When I was ten I read it, loved it and described it to my sister, who was two years younger than me. She was so horrified by the violence at the end that she refused to touch any of my SF books for a few years. The Streets of Ashkelon: not necessarily bedtime reading for eight-year-olds.

Garth is the only trader on Wesker’s World. The indigenous Weskers are a stone-age level civilization but quite friendly and intelligent, with a ruthlessly plodding logic that gives them a nice speech patter:

“That noise is the same as the noise of your sky-ship,” Itin said, with stolid Wesker logicality, slowly pulverizing the idea in his mind and turning over the bits one by one for closer examination. “But your ship is still sitting where you landed it. It must be, even though we cannot see it, because you are the only one who can operate it. And even if anyone else could operate it we would have heard it rising into the sky. Since we did not, and if this sound is a sky-ship sound, then it must mean—”

“Yes, another ship,” Garth said, too absorbed in his own thoughts to wait for the laborious Weskerian chains of logic to clank their way through to the end.

In the isolation Garth has come to see the Weskers almost paternally, so he is worried when the new ship drops off a Christian missionary. The Weskers have no concept of religion, and the missionary views them as intelligent souls that can be saved. This does not end well.

Harrison’s most widely anthologized story is just as good as I remembered it, a firm indictment of cultural imperialism. The rest of the story’s strong too; Garth is cast as being pugnacious and unreasonable at the mere sight of the missionary, and the missionary himself is well-meaning but ultimately applying the same blanket sermons to the Weskers as to anyone else.

The Streets of Ashkelon by Harry Harrison

Availability: Free online, free audiobook, print

Word count:  6,400

First published: New Worlds, 1962

Where to find it: Lightspeed Magazine has published it, and a podcast recording, free online here

50 in 50, collection, Tor, 2002

A Science Fiction Omnibus, edited by Brian W. Aldiss, 2007, Penguin Books

Nebula Awards Showcase 2010, edited by Bill Fawcett, 2010, Roc / New American Library

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