The Big Fix!


One of the stories that was new to me in recent book purchase, Strange Ecstasies (1973), was The Big Fix by Richard Wilson, a science-fiction piece about a junkie in New York City looking for something newer and better than the heroin habit he’s trying to quit. The story first appeared in Infinity Science Fiction for August 1956 but the first half of the narrative seemed so unlike the usual SF fare of the time that I kept flicking back to the copyright page to check the date. The Big Fix of the title (or The Big Fix! as it was in the magazine) is a substance named uru given to the narrator by Jones, an alien in disguise; smoking the drug induces a telepathic conversation with Jones followed by a journey through space to his home planet. In the second half of the story we discover why Jones (or Joro as he’s known at home) is transporting low-lifes from New York and offering them a chance to live on his world. The explanation is as pedestrian in SF terms as an episode of Star Trek, a factor which makes the first half of the story seem all the more striking, replete as it is with junk-life details, contemporary slang and discussion of the (for the time) very obscure South American drug known as yage, aka ayahuasca. Was this written from Wilson’s personal experience or had the details been lifted from a contemporary authority?


A few minutes of searching turned up the solution in an illustrated spread from the magazine: the original printing opened with a paragraph from Junkie (1953) by William Burroughs (credited as William Lee) which not only explains the accuracy of the drug and slang details but also why Wilson was mentioning yage. Burroughs’ connections with (and influence upon) the SF world are well-documented but this is a surprising example—maybe the first—of his influencing a story before he was known as William Burroughs. I wonder now if he ever knew about this instance himself, or if the excising of the Junkie paragraph from subsequent reprints marooned the detail in the magazine. At the end of the story there’s more contemporary relevance when the narrator has managed to return to Earth and is helping some researchers with their mescaline experiments, a process whose higher status he attributes to “the Huxley effect”.

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