I have been reading science fiction for far too many years without reading Robert Sheckley. The first story in the collection Untouched by Human Hands sets the tone for what to expect from Sheckley. “The Monsters” is a story from 1953 that subverts the usual tropes of the genre by telling a first contact story from the aliens perspective.
A reptilian-like race observers a rocket landing on the surface and strange bipedal creatures exits the ship. The aliens refer to themselves as humans and the Earth-humans as monsters, but it is clear for the reader what is going on. Through casual conversations among the reptile aliens we get a sense of what kind of society they have, their moral values and how the interpret the actions of the visting “monsters”. Sheckley’s writing is very clear and to the point, but still conveys a lot of information.
For a modern reader the plot and the concept of challenging our moral values with an outside look might not seem that original here 70 years later, but I still think Sheckley’s writing is above many authors of the present. It is clear without being dumbed down and has a lot of satirical subtext without being pretentious. Highly recommended.
Read in Untouched by Human Hands
Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 1953
Read the story on archive.org