When I was quite young I read a science fiction short story about a spaceship crew that made an emergency landing on a planet they'd never been to before. Ordinarily this would be no problem because the ship contained "analogue tapes" that related their technology to that of most alien races. Unfortunately, the accident which resulted in them landing on this planet destroyed most of their "analogue tapes." Now they were stuck until they could find some other way to make the tools to make the tools, to make the tools, to make the tools ... to fix their ship.

Anyone know what the title of this story is and who the author was. It has fueled my thoughts about how difficult it would be to communicate with a truly alien race for most of my life. One possible hint, at that time, I read many anthologies of short stories, especially from F&SF.

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    When did you read this? – Micah Feb 6 '13 at 20:01
  • Has the question been answered? If so, then please accept the answer. – NomadMaker Apr 6 '20 at 12:36
  • Unfortunately, this is not the answer. I am still sure it was humans landing on an alien planet, not aliens landing on Earth. Also fhe concept of "analogue tapes" that translated technology concepts from one culture to another is absent. – Misha Apr 7 '20 at 13:31

Yeah, I remember this story. I believe the crew were aliens that landed on earth. "Joe's Spaceship Garage" bragged that they could fix any spaceship, but were stumped because they did not have "molecular spray", a technology that prophecizes "3D printing! Since Joe could not use the tapes, he wanted to use a direct mental scan of the Ambassador, which was an immoral invasion of an unwilling mind. It turned out that this was all a test of humans. "Dale A" on the website "The Firing Line Forums" says,

A 1960's science fiction book "Space, Space, Space"


had a fun (and rather right-wing politically) story about a space ship repair shop that boasted they could repair any ship in space. One of the processes they had to obtain by hook or crook was the 'molecular spray'.

Unfortunatly, he neglects to say the NAME of the story in this collection. It might be Tools of the Trade, by Raymond F. Jones.
I am looking for the same story myself. Thought it was the cover story for Astounding Science Fiction magazine. Will go through all the covers to try to find it.

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    Your story with "molecular spray" and "Joe's Service and Repair" is "Tools of the Trade by Raymond F. Jones. I'll have to reread it (in my tattered November 1950 Astounding to see how well it fits the OP's description. It is not depicted on the cover of that issue. – user14111 Jan 16 '14 at 6:35
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    It doesn't really fit Misha's description all that well, but then maybe he read it 60 years ago. I hope he comes back someday to clear this up. – user14111 Jan 16 '14 at 7:50
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    I remember Joe agonizing about not having the tools to fix the ship. He did not even have the tools to make the tools, and would have to make the tools to make the tools to make the tools . . this is an almost direct quote from the story, and a line that has stuck in my mind, along with the concept of "molecular spray". Thanks for responding with the title, and author's name and magazine. I HAVE this issue in storage! You have saved me a ton of searching. Haven't read this story in ages . . . Victor – user25605 Apr 28 '14 at 2:39
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    Hey Victor! This seems very close so I looked up the story (found a Raymond F. Jones collection for kindle). But as user14111 says it doesn't really fit because I am sure it was humans that landed on an alien world but couldn't get off because they didn't have the analogue tapes to tell that planet's equivalent of Joe's Garage what they needed to fix and how to fix it. But, the similarity, and the style of the writing, makes me wonder if there isn't another Raymond F. Jones story out there somewhere that is the right answer. – Misha May 9 '14 at 20:37
  • By the way, it would be more like 50 years ago that I read the story, not 60. Just sayin' – Misha May 9 '14 at 20:38

One outside possibility is C. J. Cherryh's Forty Thousand in Gehenna. It's a novel and not a short story, but it's a fairly short novel and it's been collected in omnibuses...

  • Doesn't really fit the description - the novel describes a (planned-to-fail) settlement program, not an emergency landing. – Michael Borgwardt Feb 6 '13 at 20:19
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    I agree that it's not a perfect fit, but "stranded on a planet with aliens" plus the use of the very Cherryh-ish word "tapes" made me think it's worth a mention, especially for a book that was seemingly read a long time ago... – Micah Feb 6 '13 at 21:52
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    I am sure it is pre-Cherryh, more likely 1950s, possibly 1960s. To clarify, the spaceship crew in the story make an emergency landing on a planet, at a spaceport where they should have been able to get their ship repaired. Unfortunately, their "analogue tapes" something which would have allowed this alien culture to know how their ship worked compared to how the technology of the race that ran the spaceport worked, were destroyed or damaged in the accident. So, even though they are most likely surrounded by everything they need to get going again, they can't use any of it. – Misha Feb 23 '13 at 5:41

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