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Literature / The Watery Place

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First published in Satellite Science Fiction (October 1956 issue), this Short Story by Isaac Asimov is a Science Fiction Feghoot about foreigners from Venice.

The unnamed Deputy of Twin Gulch, Idaho tells how Sheriff Burt Cameron has turned the planet earth into a permanent off-limits zone. Poor ol' Sheriff Cameron was busy doing his taxes (which always gets him riled up), when two strangers come into the sheriff's office. They claim to have been watching for awhile and say they're from far away. How far? That watery place; Venus. Annoyed with them for interrupting when he's trying to finish his taxes, he yells at them to leave him alone and never come back.

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That's why humanity will never encounter aliens again. Because a podunk sheriff thought he was being bothered by aliens from that watery place; Venice.

This story has been reprinted six times; Earth is Room Enough (1957), Science Fiction Verhalen 3 (1964), The Far Ends Of Time And Earth (1979), Sirius (Yugoslavia/Croatia magazine #55 January 1981 issue), Meine Freunde Die Roboter (1982), and The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990).


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Examples of tropes within this work:

  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: Because of a small-town sheriff, the aliens are taking a hands-off approach to humanity. No Technology Uplift, no joining the Galactic Superpower, and no Casual Interstellar Travel. We're stuck here forever.
  • Aliens Speaking English: The "foreigners" speak perfect English, except for having a stilted sense of pronunciation, saying each word separately rather than running them together like many-ynglish-shpeaking folksdo. They admit to having watched our society and learning our language before approaching us.
  • The All-Concealing "I": The Deputy never reveals their name, gender, or even description, despite being the narrator.
  • City of Canals: When the strange-talking foreigners said they were from "the watery place", Sheriff Cameron figured they were talking about Venice. (He had misheard them, because they said Venus.)
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  • Double-Meaning Title: The aliens in this story said "the watery place", meaning Venus. Unfortunately, the Sheriff thinks the aliens are from Italy, so when they said "the watery place", he thought they meant Venice. The title can refer to either one, and the whole plot was a joke at the similarity in sound/description between Venus and Venice.
  • Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: The aliens are described as wearing expensive suits, but the two human characters aren't described. The setting is barely mentioned either, aside from a desk and window.
  • Feghoot: The whole story is a joke at the similarity in sound/description between Venus and Venice. Sheriff Cameron confuses Venus for Venice, since both places might be called "the watery place".
  • First Contact: The aliens chose to land in a remote town, notable for its lack of crime, and speak with the Sheriff. Unfortunately, first contact between humans and aliens goes badly because the Sheriff thinks the aliens are from Italy, and are just being annoying.
  • Flying Saucer: The aliens from Venus use a saucer-shaped craft with incredibly silent engines. They're probably capable of interstellar flight, but they were only observed in atmosphere.
  • Fun With Homonyms: The words Venice and Venus sound similar, causing Sheriff Cameron to confuse the 'foreigners' for people from Italy.
  • Human Aliens: The aliens from Venus were careful to assume human shapes. Unfortunately, this meant the person they chose to meet for First Contact thought they were humans playing around with him, and he was already annoyed from doing his taxes, so he told them to "Get the hell out of here".
  • The Namesake: The title refers to two different places because Isaac Asimov was writing a Feghoot based on Venus/Venice. The 'foreigners' used "the watery place" to refer to Venus. The sheriff thought "the watery place" referred to Venice.
  • No Name Given: There are four characters present in the work, but only Sheriff Cameron has a name. The narrator only refers to themselves as "I".
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: The crime rate of zero is why the aliens choose to land in Twin Gulch, and speak with the sheriff. Unfortunately, said sheriff had a short temper, and thought they were aliens from Italy, asking him to call the President over. It didn't go well.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: The two aliens approach Sheriff Cameron wearing charcoal grey suits, white shirts, and maroon ties. They claim to be dressed like the dominant social class, and want him to arrange for the "important men" to come talk to them.
  • Suppressed Rage: Sheriff Cameron is already annoyed by trying to do his taxes. Then a couple of foreigners start talking oddly to him. He grows sarcastic, then red-faced, until he finally explodes at them, yelling for them to leave and never come back. It isn't until they're out the door that his deputy can explain how he had just botched First Contact.
  • Telepathy: Subtly implied by one of the aliens saying that they can see "in [his] mind" that the sheriff really wanted them to leave. Obviously not very good telepathy, because then they'd know he thought they were merely humans giving him grief.
  • Title Drop: Used several times, the title refers to Venus being a watery planet, but the human chosen by aliens for First Contact misunderstands them, and believes it to refer to Venice being a watery city.
  • Venus Is Wet: The irascible sheriff chosen for First Contact is annoyed by these foreigners from "the watery place", and tells them to get out since nobody wants to be bothered by them. So they arrange for Earth to be forever isolated. He thought they said Venice!

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