I have a science fiction story stuck in my head.
December 11, 2008 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Help me identify the name of this science fiction short story or novel about a human child of an interplanetary diplomat.

This is the science fiction plot: The protagonist of the story is a human child, possibly a teenager. He or she is the child of a diplomat. As the story progresses, you realize that the diplomat parent is an interplanetary diplomat, going to various planets and meeting various aliens to do various diplomat-y things. The child is supposed to meet a group of aliens. He is given, by his diplomat parent, a list of customs and etiquette quirks on this planet. This is akin to the "Don't leave your chopsticks stuck in the rice" sort of thing. One of the items on the list is to never compliment a material possessions; if you do, the alien owner must immediately give that possession to you out of strictly bound courtesy.

The child never reads it. Come arrival time, the child meets the alien guests. One alien guest pulls out a gadget, and it is passed around the room. When it comes to the child, he or she realizes that the gadget creates something like a hologram image of a deceased loved one. For the child, he sees his dead parent (his mother?). In his surprise and awe, he whispers that the gadget is beautiful. A flash of pain flashes over the alien guest's face, and he stiffly tells the child to take it as a gift. The child tries to refuse, but it's too late.

And then the rest of the story continues. What is the frigging title? It's one thing to have a song stuck in your head; it's another thing entirely to have an entire section of a short story.
posted by shadytrees to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think I remember something similar in Heinlein's Citizen of Galaxy, but the hero was a teenager and he was adopted by the captain of a huge merchant ship, but he wasn't his child. Also I'm pretty sure he didn't actually make the mistake but only warned about it? Probably the wrong book but I thought I'd mention it.. Incidentally, it's one of the best Heinlein juveniles!
posted by rainy at 5:22 PM on December 11, 2008

Oh man, I am almost positive I read this story as a kid. Did the kid have a pet miniature panda, which helped you realize this was a sci-fi story? I read this in the late nineties/early 2000s, as part of a kid's sci fi collection. I'll try to track it down.
posted by MadamM at 5:43 PM on December 11, 2008

Best answer: I distinctly remember reading this as a kid, and the exact part you describe has always kind of stuck in my head. 99% sure it's from My Teacher Flunked the Planet, from Bruce Coville's My Teacher is an Alien series.
posted by oulipian at 6:16 PM on December 11, 2008

It's from Bruce Coville's Book of Aliens.

MINIATURE PANDA!!! I wanted one so bad as a kid.
posted by changeling at 6:19 PM on December 11, 2008

Best answer: And from Amazon's search inside, I found the story's name: "I, Earthling".

Also, the double miniature panda is named Ralph J. Bear. aw.
posted by changeling at 6:21 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ooooh, I was so close!
posted by oulipian at 6:24 PM on December 11, 2008

I second Heinlein. It leapt to mind when I read this.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:38 PM on December 11, 2008

Ha! I thought it might be Bruce Coville. That's definitely the story I remember, at least, miniature panda and all.
posted by MadamM at 6:47 PM on December 11, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you guys so much. A tiny bit of my childhood just came back. Heinlein's book looks fascinating; I'll be sure to check it out.
posted by shadytrees at 7:05 PM on December 11, 2008

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