A pair of youngsters discover a crashed spaceship and dream of running off with the lilliputian survivors to show them in a circus.

This is a story I liked much more when I was younger myself. I think it’s good enough, but it wears a bit thin with repeated rereadings. Partly this is the cuteness that Asimov resorts to in not calling any of the characters by their names. The two boys are “Red” and “Slim”—descriptive nicknames—and all the adults are referred to by their professions, not their names. He does this, of course, to hide the final shock—the planet isn’t Earth, the characters are not human, and the crashed aliens are. The point isn’t really relevant to the story, after all, and the surprise of finding it out is diminished by the feeling of “so what”?

Basically, Asimov has deliberately crafted a tale to trick us into thinking we’re reading about human beings when we’re not—which is really not all that good, given John Campbell’s dictum to make up aliens who think as well as humans but not like humans. It is not a sign, I think, of well-written aliens that the story in which they are set is nothing but a literary Turing test and one is unaware of their not being human until one is explicitly so told.

Other than this rather major problem, the story is reasonable enough—the boys’ reaction to discovering the aliens, what they want to do with them, how they treat and handle them. It just would have been better had Asimov been up-front about what he was doing.

“Youth” has acquired one other interesting feature, however. Owing to a quirk in the copyright laws, it has become part of the public domain and so is readily available on the Internet. Not only are ebooks all over the place for various platforms, but you can even get a copy from Project Gutenberg. The really sad thing about this, though, is that it means a lot people will be reading it without getting the benefit of the other stories in The Martian Way and Other Stories.

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