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Literature / Unto the Fourth Generation

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Marten didn't see it. Yet somehow he knew that all would be well with him. Somehow, as never before, he knew. ...
Final lines, added later on

First published in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (April 1959 issue), by Isaac Asimov, this story focuses on Sam Marten, a young man trying to earn his way into the world as a businessman. The ending was modified from the original publication when he entered it in Nightfall and Other Stories.

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Sam Marten is leaving a taxi at ten of noon, stumbling out and seeing a truck emblazoned with "F. Lewkowitz and Sons, Wholesale Clothiers". Immediately he corrects it to Levkowich and he second-guesses himself, wondering why he would correct it before dismissing the name and heading to his business meeting. Seeing the name Lafkowitz again distracts him, and he questions why he's disappointed in the answer.

Throughout the entire lunch meeting, Marten is distracted from the business and realizes that he's making a terrible impression. Once he's out, though, he continues his search for a Levkowich amoung the many misspellings around him.

Finally, Marten finds an old man in a park, who introduces himself as "Phinehas ben Jehudah, assigned the name Levkovich by the ukase of the Tsar". He is Marten's great-great-grandfather and the two bond over their common Jewish heritage, Marten asking Levkovich for his blessing in business and to pursue a woman in marriage. Levkovich fades away and Marten returns to the taxi, at ten of noon.

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"Unto the Fourth Generation" has been republished several times;Fiction (issue #84, November 1960), A Decade Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (1960), Venture Science Fiction (December 1964 issue, UK distribution), Urania (issue #382, May 1965), Nightfall and Other Stories (1969), Wandering Stars An Anthology Of Jewish Fantasy And Science Fiction (1974), The Best Science Fiction Of Isaac Asimov (1986), The Asimov Chronicles Fifty Years Of Isaac Asimov (1989), The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990), and Haunted America Star Spangled Supernatural Stories (1991).


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"Unto the Fourth Generation" contains examples of:

  • Alter Kocker: The Levkovich that Marten is looking for is an old Jewish man, born Phinehas ben Jehudah and married Sarah. His youngest daughter Leah had moved to America with her husband. They begin speaking to each other as "my father" and "my son" (although they are four generations separated).
  • As the Good Book Says...: The title is made to reference the way the Old Testament would speak about children, your children's children, and unto the third and fourth generation.
  • The Namesake: This story is about a young man, fresh from college, meeting his great-great-grandfather; four generations away. The main character is the first male descendant born in the new world.
  • Orwellian Retcon: The original story ended after the reset and this time Sam Marten missed seeing the red truck. Due to outside influences, Dr Asimov added two lines, telling the audience how Marten had been affected by the events of the story.
  • Pauper Patches: When encountered by the main character, Levkovich has pants so old they're patched, and shoes so old they've lost their shape and have to be kept on with strips of burlap wrapped around them.
  • Reset Button: The story begins at ten of noon and for two hours Marten searches for the correct spelling of Levkovich. After Marten and Levkovich say goodbye, the story returns to "ten of noon" the same day.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": The main character sees the name Lewkowitz on the side of a truck, and identifies it as wrong (but doesn't understand why it is wrong). He then encounters Lafkowitz, Lefkowitz, Lefkowich, Lefkowicz, Levkow, and Levkowitz... all in search for a Levkovich. When he finds them, they explain that they had a similar experience, finding "Martins and Martines and Mortons and Mertons", all while trying to meet Marten.
  • The Taxi: In crowded cities, many people choose to use taxis instead of buying a car. Our protagonist, Sam Marten, uses one to get to his business lunch, but chooses to walk around afterwards in order to search for the correct spelling of Levkovich.
  • Time Stands Still: When Marten finds Levkovich, they're in a park that the narration describes in terms of paused action. This frozen tableau lasts until their meeting is over and Marten is returned to the start of the story.
    "The trees were still and the leaves hung in odd, suspended attitudes. The sunlight was a dead weight upon him and gave no warmth.
    He was running, but his feet kicked up no dust and a tuft of grass on which he placed his weight did not bend."
  • Translator Microbes: The main character notices that the Levkovich he meets is not speaking English despite hearing that from the old man. How their speech is getting translated isn’t explained, but they notice that they can somewhat hear the original language when the other person speaks.
  • Unfinished Business: In this story, a Levkovich of the 19th century is transported to modern day 1950s New York, ostensibly before he has died. However, the two actually meet in a park where neither are able to affect the grass or dust on the ground, implying some sort of between-worlds environment where the long-dead Levkovich is allowed to see his first male descendant in America. Meeting this son allows him to go to his ancestors in peace.

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