The Star Ducks by Bill Brown
About The Author
Bill Brown was born in 1910 in Oregon, USA. He worked as a journalist, park ranger and teacher of creative writing. As a young man in 1930s, he made a voyage in a thirty-two feet schooner to the South Seas and during World War II, he descended a Himalayan river by rubber boat. Two of his books, Uncharted Voyage and Roaring River are based on these adventures. The short story, The Star Ducks, published in 1950 in the magazine, Fantasy and Science Fiction marks him as a brilliant science fiction storyteller. Some of his other popular Sci-Fi works are The Trunk and the Trumpet (1953), Medicine Dancer (1953) and Spunk Water (1954). Bill Brown died in 1961.
Summary or “The Star Ducks as Science Fiction”
Science fiction is generally defined as a genre of speculative fiction typically dealing with imaginary concepts such as advanced science and technology, space flight, time travel and extraterrestrial life.
The story ‘The Star Ducks’ deals with the extraterrestrials coming down from somewhere in the Blue. It takes them 3 years to reach the Earth for bartering eggs with Mr Alsop, an ordinary farmer. The ETs require the eggs for some unknown purpose in their own abode. The ETs have long, flexible, delicate antennae and their faces, pale blue which are as expressionless as glass. Their round eyes seem painted on their faces. Their way of interacting with humans is as strange as their appearances. They point their antennae towards the person they want to communicate with and make him think what they exactly want to convey. The UFO (spaceship) in which the aliens have visited the earth looks like a giant plastic balloon that seems only half inflated and it is globular on top and its flat bottom rests on the straw-covered floor. It is small enough to slide through the barn door.
The story is set in a strange contrast where on one side we are shown utterly simple, naive and ignorant villagers who have entered into trade with extraterrestrials even without knowing anything about them. These ETs have visited them twice within a period of 6 years for the same purpose but the Alsops are least conscious about the importance of the whole affair. On the other hand, there is Rafferty, a confident, sensible and logical reporter who understands the gravity of the whole matter but is left with no proof to share or to authenticate what could have been the biggest story in the world and that too has actually happened to him.
The story wraps up with Rafferty leaving the Alsops farm with a heavy heart, all dazed and hazy in mind.
Character sketch of Rafferty
Rafferty is one of the main characters in Bill Brown’s Sci-Fi short story ‘The Star Ducks’. Rafferty is a top news reporter who works for the ‘The Times’. As the story opens Rafferty is portrayed as an alert and keen observer kind of a reporter who immediately senses a hoax when he is unable to find any crowd of curious farmers or ambulance at the incident site for which he has earlier received a phone call. As the story unfolds, the reader comes across many other character traits of Rafferty. He happens to be the only logical and reasonable fellow in the story who does not readily believe in Mrs and Mr Alsops story about the aliens and their spacecraft till he actually witnesses the same himself. Initially, he is somewhat suspicious about the aliens being real as he looks at them slyly and is still doubtful. Later, when the aliens try to communicate with him in their own unique fashion and make him think what they want to convey, Rafferty is found trembling and clutching the door facings. Rafferty, here, appears as a calm and composed character as he quickly controls his hysterical and frenzied self. Being shrewd and sensible, he is well conscious of the fact that the presence of ETs can be the biggest story of the world which he wants to bring to light but is unsuccessful as he does not carry a camera along to capture the moment which highlights his unprofessional, reckless and careless nature which is least expected of a ‘top’ news reporter.
Title of the story ‘The Star Ducks’
The story is aptly entitled as ‘The Star Ducks’ as it refers to the chicks that came out of the eggs which Alsops had received in trade from the ETs for the hen eggs given in barter by Mr Alsop. Also named them star ducks as they were star-shaped and after getting them hatched by the brooder, some weird six-legged creatures popped out. Their appearance was akin to that of the combined one of a hippopotamus and a swallow. Only two of them lived that the naive ignorant Alsops ate for Thanksgiving.
THE STAR DUCKS QUESTIONS
1. Who was Rafferty? Why had he gone to the Alsop farm?
Answer: Ward Rafferty was a news reporter of ‘The Times’. He had gone to the Alsop farm because he had got telephone message that there was an aeroplane crack-up around there. He wanted to get complete details about the incident for his ‘The Times’ newspaper.
2. What made him conclude that the news was hoax?
Answer: After reaching the Alsop farm, Rafferty noticed that there was no crowd of disturbed or curious farmers around the Alsop farm. There was no sign of the incident that Rafferty had been told of. This made Ward Rafferty to believe that the news of a plane crash was a hoax, a false warning intended to deceive the reporters.
3. How did Rafferty know Alsop wasn’t a times Reader?
Answer: Rafferty knew that Alsop was not a Times reader for Alsop would have to know Rafferty’s name if he had read the times. But Alsop did not seem to be knowing of the name when Rafferty mentioned his name and it was clear from the episode that Alsop was not a reader of the Times.
4. When did Rafferty realize he had a story? Who did he feel had built the spaceship?
Answer: It was after reaching the barn and having a look at the contraption that Rafferty realized he had a story. It was certainly when all saw he was an aeroplane without wings only half-inflated, globular on top and flat at the bottom.
The spaceship actually belonged to the men who bend iron with a hammer. But he felt that the spaceship is built by the local Farmers.
5. Describe the visitors who had come in the contraption?
Answer: The visitors who had come to the Alsop in the contraption were strange creatures. They were aliens from
somewhere in space. They had long flexible antennae. Their faces were pale blue completely bereft of expressions. One of them was a woman, and other the man. They could not talk. They would only make pictures for anyone talking to them.
6. How did they communicate with the Alsop?
Answer: The visitors communicated with the Alsop by moving their antennae towards them (Alsop) and by bending them down until they focused on them between the eyes which would make them think what the visitors thought.
7. ‘Rafferty looked slyly at the people who bent iron‘. Why did he look at them slyly?
Answer: Rafferty figured he wasn’t going to look at them. He didn’t want the aliens to catch him glaring at them. And he looked at them sneakily. It is also reflective of the fact that Rafferty suspected them as no extraordinary creatures but as a fraud.
8 . What made Rafferty change his mind about the visitors being a fraud?
Answer: Rafferty changed his mind about the visitors being a fraud when the female alien focused her antennae on Rafferty between the eyes and he, in a jiffy, underwent a terrible experience by feeling as if his brain was made of rubber and by experiencing his mind being pounded. This terrible experience made him change his mind about the aliens because it was only then that he felt that the creatures were not a fraud.
9. Why were the visitors in a hurry to leave?
Answer: The visitors were in a hurry to leave because they had to catch the tide or something like that. They couldn’t wait for they had to leave as it was the time when the moon was in the right place. If they would have waited, they would not had found the moon in that right position.
10. Why had the visitors returned to the Alsop farm?
Answer: The visitors had returned to the Alsop farm to get eggs and brooder and feed for their use in space.
11. What happened to the star ducks?
Answer: Years back the aliens had brought to the Alsops some eggs of their own trade. The Alsop called those eggs
as ‘star ducks’. They set them under a hen which bothered the hen awfully. According to the Alsop, only two of them had lived and they ate them for thanksgiving.
6. Do you think Rafferty had a story? Why/ why not?
Answer: Rafferty had a great story which has never happened in the history of the world. It was the biggest story in the history of the world. Such a story would have made him famous and popular in the world, had he published that news about the people who bent iron. But unfortunately, he had not got any camera or phone with him. Thus he couldn’t capture the Aliens which shows Rafferty’s inexperience also.
7. Discuss the Title of the Story “Star Ducks”?
Answer: The story has an apt and suitable title as the Aliens who had come to Alsop farm three years ago had traded with Alsops in eggs. They had given Alsops eggs from their own land which were star-shaped. Hence the chicks that were produced were star Ducks with six legs. That is why the story is titled the “Star Ducks”.