Isaac Asimov – “Silly Asses”

Naron of the long-lived Rigellian race was the fourth of his line to keep the galactic records.

He had a large book which contained the list of the numerous races throughout the galaxies that had developed intelligence, and the much smaller book that listed those races that had reached maturity and had qualified for the Galactic Federation. In the first book, a number of those listed were crossed out; those that, for one reason or another, had failed. Misfortune, biochemical or biophysical shortcomings, social maladjustment took their toll. In the smaller book, however, no member listed had yet blanked out.

And now Naron, large and incredibly ancient, looked up as a messenger approached.

“Naron,” said the messenger. “Great One!”

“Well, well, what is it? Less ceremony.”

“Another group of organisms has attained maturity.”

“Excellent. Excellent. They are coming up quickly now. Scarcely a year passes without a new one. And who are these?”

The messenger gave the code number of the galaxy and the coordinates of the world within it.

“Ah, yes,” said Naron. “I know the world.” And in flowing script he noted it in the first book and transferred its name into the second, using, as was customary, the name by which the planet was known to the largest fraction of its populace. He wrote: Earth.

He said, “These new creatures have set a record. No other group has passed from intelligence to maturity so quickly. No mistake, I hope.”

“None, sir,” said the messenger.

“They have attained to thermonuclear power, have they?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, thats the criterion.” Naron chuckled. “And soon their ships will probe out and contact the Federation.”

“Actually, Great One,” said the messenger, reluctantly, “the Observers tell us they have not yet penetrated space.”

Naron was astonished. “Not at all? Not even a space station?”

“Not yet, sir.”

“But if they have thermonuclear power, where do they conduct the tests and detonations?”

“On their own planet, sir.”

Naron rose to his full twenty feet of height and thundered, “On their own planet?”

“Yes, sir.”

Slowly Naron drew out his stylus and passed a line through the latest addition in the small book. It was an unprecedented act, but, then, Naron was very wise and could see the inevitable as well as anyone in the galaxy.

“Silly asses,” he muttered.


A personal favourite of mine among Asimov’s stories, and probably one of his shortest. Purely because I love the message it sends, and I just need it on my blog.

(A pedant would probably point out that the names 地球 and Tierra should come before Earth… But there’s a time and a place for pedantry, and this isn’t it.)

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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19 Responses to Isaac Asimov – “Silly Asses”

  1. Thomas Jones says:

    We tried testing nuclear things in space. It turned out to be a very bad idea, so we banned it. I suppose these aliens didn’t have any electric satellites or cities downwind of launch sites?

    • invaderxan says:

      No, we tried testing nuclear things in Earth’s upper atmosphere. To my knowledge, no nuclear tests have ever been conducted in space. If you’re actually in space, “downwind” is an irrelevant concept.

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  4. rri0189 says:

    About a month after leaving my last reply, I happened to have business in the city of Cuenca, Ecuador. All the time I was there, I encountered /one/ person who could not speak English—an elderly beggar.

  5. rri0189 says:

    Depends on second-language speakers. Chinese and Spanish are almost entirely spoken by Chinese and Hispanics, but it’s hard to find a place in the world where no one speaks English.

    • invaderxan says:

      In all honesty, I wouldn’t entirely agree. There are quite a few places here in Europe where you’d be hard pressed to find someone who speaks English. In major cities, yes it’s quite likely. Everywhere else, not so much.

      Your point is a very good one, however. Some estimates place the total number of English speakers, including second language speakers, at around 1.5 billion, which would indeed outnumber those who speak Mandarin (approximately 1.2 billion – though that estimate is probably outdated by now). Though if we’re to be pedantic, then I’d question how many of those people know the word for “Earth” in English. I’m passable with French and speak enough Japanese to survive but, offhand, I wouldn’t know the word for Earth in either of these languages without looking it up. Which is actually slightly embarrassing to admit!

      Thought provoking… Thanks for your comment.

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  7. monado says:

    It puzzled me why the equation for finding civilizations on other planets doesn’t include their lifespan after dominating their planet and discovering nuclear weapons. In my twenties, I gave them three hundred years. Now I think that might have been too optimistic.

    • invaderxan says:

      Oh, you mean the Drake Equation? Well it has the L term to define the lifetime of the civillisation during which it sends signals into outer space. Though given the Drake equation is essentially a back-of-the-napkin estimate, I doubt it was never really intended to be taken all that seriously. :)

      Three hundred years? Ouch. That’s a little pessimistic, don’t you think…?

  8. monado says:

    That was not a joke.

  9. pax says:

    Aaah, so wonderfully to the point. And sadly so true.
    I can’t remember reading that particular one, but it reminds me that I should look back into some of the classical sf short stories.

  10. Prof. Bleen says:

    Strange—I don’t recall this story at all. I’ve definitely read it, though—it’s included in the collection Buy Jupiter and Other Stories. In that compilation, Asimov prefaced it with this note:

    The next story, SILLY ASSES, is one that I had better say very little about or the commentary will be longer than the story. I wrote it on July 29, 1957, and it was rejected by two different magazines before Bob Lowndes kindly made a home for it. It appeared in the February 1958 issue of Future.

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