In the first issue of Analog magazine that I ever bought, ca. August 1966, I remember seeing a fine story --- or at least, it seems fine as I remember it --- titled "Something to Say".

Analog was subtitled "Science Fiction / Science Fact" and was the descendant of Astounding Tales of Super Science. Its editor, John W. Campbell, ruled his domain with an blue steel pencil. (For notes on a small personal encounter with JWC see CollegeCollage1 (29 Sep 2000).) Campbell's politics were conservative, though he had a soft spot in his heart (or head) for intricate mechanisms that purported to violate various laws of nature, e.g., vibrating thingies that seemed to lose some of their weight or magically move forward without pushing against anything. But to his credit, Campbell introduced a cohort of teenagers (mostly boys, for various societal reasons) to the joys of scientific discovery and technological imagination. He tried, perhaps with less success, to put an uplifting moral into every story.

"Something to Say" was no exception. A pair of people are shipwrecked on an alien planet. The locals are primitive but have some aboriginal glimmerings of emergent civilization. One of the humans, a professional linguist, falls in with the priestly sub-culture; she learns their language but can't persuade them to do anything much for her and so becomes essentially a sideshow freak, a quasi-prisoner, well-fed but irrelevant to the effort to get home to Earth. The other human, an engineer and Obviously Our Hero, never figures out any grammar or syntax ... but via hand-signs, model-building, and practical demonstrations manages to teach the natives how to improve their technology, build better gliders and other machines, and eventually get signals out to the rescue party so that he and his fellow homo sapiens can be picked up.

The punch line, of course, is that it's not enough to know form and method and framework and style. "You have to have something to say", something of practical import. Content counts....

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicLiterature - 2002-04-13

(correlates: BeUnprepared, SpellCheck, ThingsPeopleAndIdeas, ...)