This is the first story in the anthology The World Turned Upside Down edited by Jim Baen, David Drake and Eric Flint. Their premise for the selection was stories that impressed them when they first read them – usually at a young age. I found that important to remember when reading this story from 1946 today, because it didn’t “wow” me that much but it is clear to see why it would have made an impression if I have read a story like that earlier in my science fiction reading life.
The story is told from the perspective of aliens visiting our solar system because the sun is about to explode and they want to save as many lives as possible. They are surprised that radio signals is coming from the system because the system was visited “only” four hundred thousands years ago and for these beings it is almost inconceivable that an intelligent species could have evolved so quickly. They find an Earth devoid of life, but with abandoned cities and structures – among that where the radio transmission was coming from.
There is a lot to like about the, for the time, original perspective of letting aliens explore Earth and tell a future human history from their perspective with various misconceptions. But it is somewhat lacking as a story because it is mostly aliens observing and making their conclusions. Also, many stories have been written since then exploring similar themes – and many were likely inspired by this – so it comes out as somewhat predictable.
However, it is a good example of what science fiction stories in the Golden Age of Astounding in the 1940s could produce and an important story for the history of the genre.
Read in The World Turned Upside Down
First published in Astounding Science Fiction, May 1946
Read the story at baen.com