Final Offer

The story goes that the Dutch bought Manhattan Island from the occupying tribe for… what? $16 worth of beads and trinkets? Considering what the folks in that neck of the woods were using as currency back then, it was probably more generous than it sounds today, but the image is compelling enough that it’s become a recurring plot device in science fiction.

Among those stories using that plot device, my favorite is a short story originally published back in 1963 in Playboy. I first encountered the story in Judith Merril’s The Year’s Best S-F, the 9th annual edition. (I never read Playboy. I just looked at the pictures.) The story was “Bernie the Faust” by William Tenn (a pen name for the late Philip Klass). Told in first person, it bows in the direction of Damon Runyon, but Klass has his own voice. Check it out; it’s a good read even 55 years later.

My second favorite has become this short video by Mark Slutsky: “A down-on-his-luck lawyer awakes in a doorless room to find he’s been selected to negotiate on behalf of the human race.”

Oh yes, the old science fiction conundrum of how to portray aliens as something other than “humans in drag?” In this case, it’s turned on its head. Cute!


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