The Road Not Taken (short story)

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"The Road Not Taken"
Analog November 1985 cover.jpg
Author Harry Turtledove
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science Fiction
Published in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact
Publisher Dell Magazines
Media type Print (Magazine)
Publication date November 1985
Followed by "Herbig-Haro"

"The Road Not Taken" is a short story by Harry Turtledove, set in 2039, in which he presents a fictitious account of a first encounter between humanity and an alien race, the Roxolani. "Herbig-Haro" is another short story by Turtledove, which is the sequel to this one.

Plot summary[edit]

The story is told through limited third person point of view, with most of the story concerning a single Roxolani captain, Togram. During a routine journey of conquest, they happen upon Earth. The Roxolani anticipate a simple and rewarding campaign, as they can detect no use of gravity manipulation, the cornerstone of their civilization. Humanity is awed by the invaders, as the maneuverability granted by that technology suggests the rest of their civilization is equally impressive. But as they begin their assault, things take a turn for the absurd—the Roxolani attack with matchlock weapons and black powder explosives. Humans retaliate with automatic weapons and missiles. The battle is short, and most of the invaders are killed. A few are captured alive.

When they are interrogated, the truth becomes evident: the method of manipulating gravity is absurdly simple, and species like the Roxolani are thus able to use faster than light travel with relatively primitive technological sophistication. This enabled them to engage in wars of conquest on a galactic scale. However, adopting the technology allowing for interstellar travel (and wars of conquest on a galactic scale) stifles further technological development. In contrast, humanity somehow missed developing gravity technology and advanced further technologically.

As Togram and another Roxolani captive realize the impact of the narrow but critical Roxolani technology for another, generally more advanced society, the story closes with the two asking themselves, "What have we done?"

Publication history[edit]

The story was first published in Analog Science Fiction in 1985. It is a prequel story to "Herbig-Haro"—set several centuries after humanity has conquered the galaxy— published a year before under the name "Eric Iverson".

This short story contains ideas which were later more developed in the Worldwar series, in which the invading aliens have an initial technological edge that is soon surpassed by human ingenuity and innovation.