“The Language of Love” by Robert Sheckley – Classics of Science Fiction

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Group Read 72: The Best Science Fiction Stories of 1957

“The Language of Love” by Robert Sheckley #06 of 20 (Read)

I added “The Language of Love” by Robert Sheckley to the list of best science stories of 1957 because me and my high school buddies loved this story back then, and it has stuck with me for over fifty years. I’ve often talked about it to other people. “The Language of Love” is a silly humorous piece that also offers interesting philosophical insights. I won’t talk about them right away because I hope you will go read the story, but I will eventually spoil the ending by explaining the story.

Robert Sheckley is becoming a forgotten science fiction writer and I think that’s sad. Everyone recalls The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when the topic of humor and science fiction comes up, but they should be using Robert Sheckley as the poster boy for funny Sci-Fi instead of Douglas Adams. And don’t get me wrong. I like Douglas Adams too, but Sheckley mined the funny bone of science fiction far deeper and wider.

Sheckley wrote a lot of short stories in the 1950s and 1960s and they just aren’t remembered. Probably he’s remembered, if he’s remembered at all, for two novels, Dimension of Miracles and Mindswap. Both are available on audiobook, and that’s how you should read them. Neil Gaiman introduces the audiobook version of Dimension of Miracles where he tells a funny/sad anecdote about Sheckley. Gaiman produced several audiobooks for Audible where he promotes forgotten titles and authors. You might like to look at that page.

“The Language of Love” is about a young Earth man, Jefferson Toms, who falls for a girl named Doris. He was overwhelmed by what he felt for her, but when Doris expected Jefferson to tell her he loved her he couldn’t. Jefferson wanted to find the perfect words to express exactly what he felt for her. So, he went on a quest across the galaxy to learn everything he could about love and language.

To get you to click on the read link above, I thought I would post the first two pages of the story. Sheckley has a wonderful writer’s voice, and I think you need to hear a bit of it. Maybe that will convey what I mean more than my own words trying to describe it.

When Jefferson returns to Doris and utters the precise words that express his feelings for her, poor Doris is upset. I changed my mind. I won’t give you those words. Or explain the double surprise ending. Just go read the story.

I think “The Language of Love” also captures one of the dominant flavors of Galaxy Science Fiction back in the 1950s. Galaxy loved satire. Often stories in Galaxy were light, jaunty, and sometimes biting. It wasn’t a hard science fiction magazine like Astounding. I’m not sure the type of science fiction Galaxy presented in the 1950s has survived well. H. L. Gold was a much different editor than Frederik Pohl in the 1960s. Only three of the twenty stories our group is reading as the best of 1957 are from Galaxy, I added two of them, “The Language of Love” and “Time Waits for Winthrop” by William Tenn. I added them by abusing my power as moderator. I hope it just isn’t me that fondly remembers this kind of science fiction from the 1950s. I’m looking forward to seeing how the others react.

James Wallace Harris, 3/23/24

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