Group Read 27: The Big Book of Science Fiction
Story #36 of 107: “Plenitude” by Will Worthington
[I’ve gotten a complaint about my hyperlinks being hard to see. I’m going to bold them to see if that helps. Let me know what you think.]
Who the hell was Will Worthington? According to ISFDB.org, he was the pen name for Will Mohler, and they list just twelve short stories by him, published in the SF magazines from 1958-1963. His name only appeared on a cover twice, and according to the VanderMeers in the introduction of “Plenitude” Mohler’s identity is still quite a mystery. But ISFDB is full of people like Mohler, would-be writers who had a few publications and then disappeared. Forgotten writers intrigue me. I even maintain a webpage for Lady Dorothy Mills, a forgotten writer from the 1920s. Most days, that site gets no hits.
“Plenitude” appeared in the November 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and then was reprinted by Judith Merril twice, first in her annual for 1959, and then again in her The Best of the Best, which was her favorite stories from the first five years of the annual. For some reason, it was reprinted in two different forgotten anthologies in 1974. Four of his other stories were reprinted, but none of them ever made it into a major anthology until The Big Book of Science Fiction. And I’m not sure it belongs there. Evidently, the VanderMeers like forgotten writers too.
“Plenitude” is a pretty good SF story, but not a classic. It’s the second time I’ve read it. The VanderMeers reprint twenty stories from the 1950s and none of them were about post-apocalyptic times after the bomb, a very favorite theme from that decade. However, Mohler’s story is about a family, a dad, a wife, and two kids living out in the woods after a major change in society — so it’s kind of post-apocalyptic.
Actually, it’s anti-utopian, or post-technology. The dad has moved his family back to nature to escape the modern life of living in a pod jacked into artificial reality. I picture this future somewhat like The Matrix, but the inhabitants know what they are doing, and can still see the real world if needed.
Mohler was doing exactly what Silvina Ocampo was doing in “The Waves,” protesting a future designed by science and technology. However, Mohler took the time to work up a real story with decent characterization. The dad in this story comes across like a proto-hippy or 20th-century Luddite. He makes his family work hard at farming and is proud of his son for being a good bow hunter. This family is part of a small mountain community that has rejected techno-life. I pictured these people being the kind who joined communes in the 1960s and 1970s and read Mother Earth News, CoEvolution Quarterly, Communities, and the Whole Earth Catalog. Oh wait, I read those mags. I guess that’s why I feel a kinship with Mohler. Mohler was ahead of his time in 1959, but maybe not, because there are back-to-nature folks in every era. But he predates the back to the land movement of the 1960s.
The F&SF editorial blurb that introduced “Plenitude” said of Mohler, “As of this writing, Will Worthington is living on a wild island off the coast of Maine, where he is leading a Thoreau-like existence which will inspire him, it is to be hoped, to more stories like the following.” I’m tempted to read Mohler’s other eleven stories to see if I can guess more about what he might have been like. A few years later, another blurb says he’s living in Washington, DC.
Since I don’t have time to read those other stories I thought I’d post the first page of each of them to see if they give any more clues about Mohler. But I’m also posting links to where you can read the stories online, just in case you’re like me and wonder about forgotten authors.
I can’t say any of these beginnings grabbed my interest, nor was much revealed about Mohler. When I get time I want to read all the stories. I’m curious about Mohler. He seemed to disappear just as the 1960s got going. Did he drop out, or begin his real career? I bet he loved the 1960s though, at least from the vibes I get from reading “Plenitude.”
James Wallace Harris, 10/28/21