I love old science fiction. I recall stories that I’ve read and loved, and enjoy going back to them again on occasion to refresh my memory. Now and then, however, one of them gets lost.
A recent example was “The Coppersmith,” by Lester Del Rey, published in “Unknown” in 1939. I first read it in 1968, if I’m not mistaken, in the collection of a housemaster during my senior year in prep school. Then I moved on and time moved on; until the advent of the Internet, I had no way of tracking this lovely story down again, but a few years ago I was able to find it in a collection of Del Rey stories and rejoiced to renew my acquaintance with an old friend.
Another story was more elusive. I have no idea when I first read it, but all I remembered was that it was about aliens who came to earth looking for refuge, and they needed salt to reproduce. The word for salt was “shreeprill,” and the ones who broke the communication barriers down were the wives (and children) of the negotiators. I hunted high and low, wide and deep, without result – for decades, until yesterday.
Finally a hit. The story was called “Subcommittee” by Zenna Henderson, and was collected in an anthology called “The Everything Box.” I looked online, and found a number of copies, but they are fairly rare: most of them are selling for around $25.00.
Zenna Henderson in 1953
I had told my wife about my hunt for this story, and she also remembered having read it. When I reported to her the results of my successful find, she replied, “Oh, Zenna! I love her writing.” She asked me what book it was in. I told her. She dug into her collection and in 10 seconds pulled out the very edition that I was looking for. And I sat down astonied… for years, the story was sitting on our bookshelves, right under my nose.
How pleasant it was to re-read this delightful tale, along with the other ones in the collection. I must have had it at one point in my life, because all of them seemed mightiliy familiar.
Only one or two left that I can think of which I still need to locate. I’m not sure if I ever will, because I think they were in French, in a collection I found at a flea market in Austria in 1975¹. But even if I can never find those, I’m well content. The Internet has triumphed again.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
¹ One of the stories I’m still hunting for is similar to “The Conqueror” by Mark Clifton. It deals with a peculiar strain of coffee which had the odd result of making people think rationally. When some of it gets introduced into congress or parliament or somewhere, the first “victim” stands up and shouts “It’s all balls!”, whereupon in short order the entire body proceeds to stop bickering and pass a raft of laws designed to raise the living conditions of everyone. Wish I could find that one again.