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The Streets of Ashkelon by Harry Harrison

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"The Streets of Ashkelon" is a 1962 science fiction short story by Harry Harrison. It is about the small aliens on a newfound planet, and the trader and missionary who try to convince them of opposing ideas.

It seems to be an argument nearly universal in its appeal – you know, the idea of religion vs. science, missionary vs. businessman and believer vs. atheist. Here is an awesome, famous story (that is over 50 years old now!) that demonstrates the fact that this question will be around to plague humankind for many, many years to come!

Non-Spoiler Summary

Missionary Cross by Mathieu Bertrand Struck, CC 2.0 License

Garth has been doing pretty well for himself this past year. He has been the lone trader (and sole human) on the recently discovered planet of Wesker’s World. That means he has some unique items to release on the rest of civilization, and it also means that the Weskers (small, amphibian-like aliens) are still relatively “pure”. So it is with some trepidation (or downright anger) that he greets the solitary human passenger who has just been dropped off on the planet: Father Mark. At first the two of them collide in their beliefs, but they eventually learn to stick to the safe topics. Anyway, just as it seems they may be able to get along together on the same world, the aliens have an existential crisis – and turn to the two of them to answer their deep, dichotomous questions. The problem is that the Weskers have a pretty severe litmus test for discerning the truth – and they aren’t too concerned about who pays the price!

My Two Cents

  • Story: 4 stars – I thought this was a very cool story idea, and I enjoyed it immensely. However it is not truly unique – I have read several stories about “converting” aliens. Perhaps it was the first of its kind back in 1962… but we’re not living in that year anymore are we?
  • Writing: 4 stars – Overall it was excellent. There were a few scenes that seemed a little bit out of place, however – like how Garth threatened the missionary when they first met.
  • Fun Factor: 5 stars – I loved it! However, I’m a sucker for alien / anthropology / religion science fiction stories – so your experience may be different.

Where To Find The Streets of Ashkelon

  • This short story first appeared in the September 1962 edition (#122) of New Worlds Science Fiction.
  • You can read "The Streets of Ashkelon" online for free at LightSpeed Magazine’s web site.
  • It is also included in the collection A Science Fiction Omnibus – under the title “An Alien Agony”

Craving More SF Stories Like This One?

If you enjoyed "The Streets of Ashkelon" then you might also like "A Slave is a Slave" H. Beam Piper – about a planet conquered by an Empire which quickly outlaws their ancient way of life.