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In this story a futuristic city is surrounded by lands where the farming folk are resistant to the city’s modern technology.

The city sends out a representative to sell labour-saving machinery, but he discovers that the farmers are actually way more advanced than the city, as they’re using gene editing and nanotechnology.

The turning point of the story is where a farmer at a trade fair sees our guy's demo and asks him “How many to a get?” meaning “How many offspring does this thing provide?”

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  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. Please check out the suggestions to see if they help you recall any additional details you can edit into your question.
    – DavidW
    Commented Oct 29, 2019 at 23:21
  • Long time lurker, finally joined to say ... this is a common trope in Sci Fi. eg Pohl and Konbluth Search the Sky, Asimov's Foundation series. Cameron's Avatar movie, to mention just a few.
    – andy256
    Commented Oct 31, 2019 at 4:21

2 Answers 2

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Googled the phrase you posted. Got Rule Golden, by Damon Knight.

"Around the first turn, it was 'Swifty, with Alvah nowhere. In the stretch, Alvah was coming up fast on the outside. Around the far turn, he was two monster lengths behind and, in the stretch again, they were neck and neck. Alvah kept it that way for the next two laps and then gradually pulled ahead. The crowd became a multicolored streak, whirling past him. In the sixth lap, he passed Swifty again—in the eighth, again—in the tenth, still again—and when he skidded to a halt beyond the finish post, fluttering its flags with the wind of his passage, poor old Swifty and his steaming beast were still lumbering halfway down the stretch.

"Now, friends," said Alvah, triumphantly mounting the platform again, "in a moment, I'm going to tell you how you, yourselves, can own this wonderful runabout and many marvels more—but first, are there any questions you'd like to ask?"

Swifty pushed forward, grinless, looking like a man smitten by lightning. "How many to a get?" he called.

Alvah decided he must have misunderstood. "You can have any number you want," he said. "The price is so reasonable—but I'm going to come to that in a—"

"I don't mean how many will you sell. How many to a get?" Alvah looked blank. "How many calves, or colts, or whatever, is what I want to know."

There was a general murmur of agreement. This, it would seem, was what everybody wanted to know. Appalled, Alvah corrected the misapprehension as quickly and clearly as he could.

"Mean to say," somebody called, "they don't breed?"

"Certainly not. If one of them ever breaks down—and, friends, they're built to last—you get it repaired or buy another." "How much?" somebody in the crowd yelled.

"Friends, I'm not here to take your money," Alvah said. "We just want—"

"Then how we going to pay for your stuff?"

"I'm coming to that. When two people want to trade, friends, there's usually a way. You want our products. We want metals—iron, aluminum, chromium—" "Suppose a man ain't got any metal?"

"Well, sir, there are a lot of other things we can use beside metal. Natural fruits and vegetables, for instance."

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    Thanks, Pevara, this is perfect. Rule Golden is actually the first story in the book I've found; the one I was after turns out to be the second one, Natural State.
    – Alec Brady
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 21:46
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"Natural State", a novella by Damon Knight, first published in Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1954, available at the Internet Archive. ("Rule Golden" is another novella by Damon Knight, and Rule Golden and Other Stories is a Damon Knight collection containing "Natural State" and "Rule Golden" among others.)


The line "How many to a get?" is on page 32 of the Galaxy story:

"Now, friends," said Alvah, triumphantly mounting the platform again, "in a moment, I'm going to tell you how you, yourselves, can own this wonderful runabout and many marvels more—but first, are there any questions you'd like to ask?"

Swifty pushed forward, grinless, looking like a man smitten by lightning. "How many to a get?" he called.

Alvah decided he must have misunderstood. "You can have any number you want," he said. "The price is so reasonable—but I'm going to come to that in a— "

"I don't mean how many will you sell. How many to a get?" Alvah looked blank. "How many calves, or colts, or whatever, is what I want to know."


An expanded (or perhaps just retitled) version of "Natural State" was published as half of an Ace Double Novel under the title Masters of Evolution:

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Here is Frederik Pohl's review of Masters of Evolution from If, January 1960 (available at the Internet Archive):

Damon Knight possesses wit and invention, and displays both in Masters of Evolution, as his book publishers (Ace) have retitled his old Galaxy novella. City folk and country folk hate each other and no longer have any peaceable contact with each other. So as not to confuse the reader with on-the-other-hands, Knight has made it a premise that there is nothing useful, good or desirable about any machine—any machine—and the only satisfactory way of life for humanity is biological.

To document it, Knight has invented some splendidly evolved plants and animals—parrot sort of things for storing data and transmitting messages, ferriferous bushes whose fruits are Bowie knives, etc. The merely technological cities get the worst of it, but Knight convinces you that to put them out of their misery is entirely a kindness, as he describes the crushing load of absolutely essential labor-saving devices that each city dweller must drag about. This one is fun.


How I found this answer. I didn't use Google, and I didn't crib from Pevara_Sedai's answer, which came in while I was slowly typing this one. I remembered seeing the story in an early issue of Galaxy but I didn't remember the author or title. So I searched the Internet Archive texts of Galaxy issue by issue starting with the first issue in October 1950, and hit pay dirt in January 1954.

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    I've found Natural State on Kindle. Thanks for the research.
    – Alec Brady
    Commented Dec 7, 2019 at 21:42

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