Review: Try to Remember by Frank Herbert

Amazing Stories cover October 1961
Amazing Stories cover October 1961

It’s been almost a year (January 26, 2013) since I first mentioned the “tattered 1969 Belmont edition paperback copy of The Best of Amazing.” Since then, we’ve steadily looked at all of the works included in the collection selected by Joseph Ross. Well, all except for one. Try to Remember by Frank Herbert (you might have heard of him) is a fitting conclusion to this anthology and a fitting story to represent what is best about Amazing Stories. First published in the October 1961 issue, the novella is one of those stories that makes the reader think.

We’ve all read stories about the weaknesses and eventual downfall of mankind. I get it. The diversity of cultures around our little globe is part of what makes us human. Yet, this cultural multiplicity is also one of our most definitive shortcomings. Try to Remember is an example of civilization’s inability to overcome insecurities and lack of trust in our fellow man in an effort to save the world.

An alien spaceship ship full of froglike creatures suddenly drops out of the sky and gives the citizens of earth an ultimatum.

“You are required to assemble your most gifted experts in human communication. We are about to submit a problem. We will open five identical rooms of our vessel to you. One of us will be available in each room.

“Your problem: To communicate with us.

“If you succeed, your rewards will be great.

“If you fail, that will result in destruction for all sentient life on your planet.

This story kinda reminds me of the 1940 classic Farewell to the Master by Harry Bates (this story made the big screen under the name The Day the Earth Stood Still). The major difference is the character focus. Unlike Farewell, this does not center on the alien beings. Try to Remember is an examination of the human condition and does not provide much information about the visitors. When given an ultimatum, the cultural differences around the world bring about a vast array of interpretations and expectations. And herein lies our problem. How do we communicate with an alien race when we cannot even communicate with our neighbors?

“You must break away from this limited communications!” This is the demand from the aliens.

Upon first reading, I first questioned the fact that the ultimatum did not come with a deadline. This made me think that perhaps the aliens were merely pointing out our flaws and suggested that mankind would eventually fail if we did not learn to communicate. But as the story progressed, I began to feel the same desperation and hopelessness as many of the characters. Technical advances mean nothing if we cannot control our own moral fiber. The threat was real and the desperation inevitably turned to fear and violence.

Try to Remember is more speculative fiction than science fiction. This story also represents one of the more accurate examples of the division within the genre. The alien involvement and technological advancements may draw this story into the SF field, but the crux of the story is still the social indifferences of characters in a multicultural environment.

Granted, Frank Herbert is best known for his Dune saga. But readers of Try to Remember will ironically long remember this story as well. As the final installment from The Best of Amazing anthology, it has many meanings when it comes to representing the classic magazine. As a social tool, Amazing Stories is a bridge to multiple cultures and enables fandom to spread globally. As a literary tool, remembering the classics is how fandom builds momentum. And if we are to expand to future generations of fans, we have to Try to Remember where we came from independently and where we hope to go collectively.

In a way, it is sad to bring this series of reviews to a close. But as long as we have books like The Best of Amazing on our shelf, we will always be able to go back and revisit some of the classics that represent what Amazing Stories is all about. When Hugo Gernsback coined “scientifiction” as “a charming romance intermingled with science fact and prophetic vision,” he gave fandom the tools to discover an infinite number of works, many of which would be worthy of a “Best of” consideration.

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