I don't think this was really a big deal in the story, just some on-going issue the protagonist was dealing with while carrying on with whatever the major plot was. It stuck in my head for some reason. I think I read this before 1970. It could have been a fix-up novel from a series of short stories. It could even be something I otherwise remember well but this part of the plot has become disconnected from the rest in my head.

The protagonist is an interstellar agent of some sort, working out in the galactic boonies. Some gizmo he depends on has been broken or lost. He has sufficient technical knowledge to describe how to build one, but the tech level in the region where he is currently stranded cannot reproduce it in a useful form. The gizmo (ansible? navigation tool? life-support aid?) was originally something he could easily carry around, but the first built-to-order replacement he contracts for is room-size. He tries again, maybe more than once, maybe switching planets, and eventually gets someone to make him a just-barely-portable replacement that is sufficient to get him back to more high-tech parts of the galaxy.

1 Answer 1


This is almost certainly Larry Niven and David Gerrold's novel The Flying Sorcerers. The novel first appeared as a serial called "The Misspelled Magician" in If magazine in 1970.

The plot revolves around an anthropologist who crash-lands on a planet with primitive technology. The inhabitants call him "Purple" based on how his translator rendered his name.

He's broken his spaceship, as well as his glasses. He befriends one of the inhabitants, who as a bone carver is more open to technological advancement than many.

There then follows a period of rapid social and technological development, consequences "Purple"'s need to build a flying machine to get home.

The novel ends with an awful pun that's based on the translator's mistake in rendering "Purple"'s name.

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    Nah, I remember that one. It was pretty awful. The book I'm thinking of was all at a much larger scale and higher tech level. If there was a plot twist involved, it would have been along the lines that one of the boonie worlds was Earth at a then-contemporary (1960s) or even near-future tech level. I don't really remember one way or the other whether it was Earth-human protagonist stuck among aliens or alien-of-some-sort stuck in the neighborhood of Earth, or just a bunch of we're-all-humans-in-this-universe generic settings.
    – Ethan
    Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 1:02

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