In his short story, “The Watery Place” (1956), Isaac Asimov writes about a sheriff and his deputy sitting in the sheriff’s station in Twin Gulch, ID. The sheriff has various business interests in addition to his work as a sheriff, and so his taxes are complicated. He insists on doing his own taxes each year, rather than hiring an accountant, and so he is always in a bad mood on April 14.
A flying saucer lands on April 14, 1956, and two aliens (who look and dress like humans) walk into the sheriff’s office. They announce that they “come from the watery place your people call Venus.” They ask to speak with the leaders of the USA (which the aliens seem to think refers to the entire planet) to negotiate bringing them into the alien’s organization. The sheriff thinks they look Italian and that they said they were from Venice. He becomes angry because they are interrupting his work. Besides, the US is already part of the United Nations, and he has no desire to call the president or Congress and ask them to visit. He threatens to arrest the visitors if they do no leave immediately and orders them never to return. The aliens say they will respect his desire for privacy and never return and that humans will never need to leave their world. The aliens then leave. The deputy realizes that humans will never travel in space, not even to visit the moon, only because one sheriff made a simple mistake.
This story is interesting because it describes Venus as a planet covered with water. Of course today we know that the surface temperature of Venus is 872 F (hot enough to melt lead) and that any water would boil away. For many years, however, observers of Venus concluded from the clouds that the surface of Venus may be covered with swamps. During Asimov’s time it was common for science fiction writers to describe Venus as a water-covered planet. Another example is Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Long Rain” in which he describes Venus as having nearly constant rain.
Such a description would not work with readers today, but Asimov’s “The Watery Place” provides an interesting example of how science fiction reflects the science of its time. It is fun to consider the scientific predictions made by science fiction authors which have come true or are currently in development. Some interesting examples are discussed in The Prophets of Science Fiction. It is also fun to consider predictions which have been proven wrong. “The Watery Place” is one such example.
“The Watery Place,” in Earth Is Room Enough (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1957), 97-101.