The story of an experiment gone wrong--a planet seeded with primitive bacterial, plant, and insect life forms, then forgotten until a spaceship crash-lands, stranding its crew. The crew must fight to survive in a savage nightmare world. From the Hugo Award-winning author, Murray Leinster. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (11)
The forgotten masterpiece
When my nine year old daughter saw me reading this book and she saw the front cover with a picture of a man fighting a giant spider, she exclaimed: Dad! How immature of you! Why are you reading a book about people fighting giant spiders with spears? I explained to her that thing about not judging a book by its cover. Likewise, should you not judge this book based on my brief synopsis. Hopefully my full review will give the right impression.
Humankind was spreading throughout the galaxy; turning suitable but barren planets into planets fit for life and human population. A seed ship, Orana, lands on an unnamed planet and plant spores, microorganisms, plankton, and fungi. Subsequent seed ships plant fish, plant life, insects and other arthropods. However, due to a clerical error the planet is "forgotten" and the process is never finished. This allows fungi, plants, and insects to grow far beyond their normal size over centuries. The planet becomes a planet with giant mushrooms, giant insects, millipedes, and spiders, but without mammals, birds, or reptiles. The space ship Icarus crash lands on this planet filled with monsters and the crew is lost and forgotten. Through the generations the knowledge of civilization is forgotten and the descendents of the ship wrecked turn into savages. The story is about Burl and his tribe and how they begin to rediscover human knowledge in this brutal world where humans are nothing but vermin and insect feed.
About the book:
The story telling is fast paced and there is stomach churning action on basically every page. It is the type of book that is hard to put down. Even though the premise may seem childish and some of you may have frowned while reading the synopsis, the book is far from a simple minded action read. The description of the insects and the spiders and how they behave and look like is based on the author's expertise in Entomology. The clear descriptions of the arthropod world and how it would look like enlarged was fascinating. His description of how people would live and survive in such a world was also gripping and believable. Well we know that creatures with exoskeletons cannot grow to the sizes described in the book, but I thought this inconsistency was easy to swallow considering all the other quality science. The author is clearly very knowledgeable and he has great skill in realistically portraying a micro world as a macro world.
The book was also about rediscovering civilization and how this could happen. The author's descriptions of the circumstances, the events, and the feelings and thoughts of the protagonist, Burl, were believable and engaging. Rediscovering civilization is not an easy feat. There are habits, feelings, and thought patterns that have to be overcome in addition to discovery and invention. This can only happen under special circumstances with the help of people with suitable personalities.
The book seems like a childish book at first. However, this book was a nice surprise that I enjoyed reading very much. "The forgotten Planet" is a "forgotten masterpiece". I also think this book would make a good movie. I hope a movie producer will consider it one day.
A metaphor for humanity's rise from savagery!
Earth was now a crowded planet and science had advanced to the point where terraforming remote barren planets for the future expansion of humanity was a possibility. "The seed ship Orana landed on this planet - which still had no name. It carefully infected it. It circled endlessly above the clouds, dribbling out a fine dust - the spores of every conceivable micro-organism which could break down rock to powder and turn that dust to soil. It was also a seeding of moulds and fungi and lichens and everything which could turn powdery primitive soil into stuff on which higher forms of life could grow. The Orana polluted the seas with plankton. Then it, too, went away." Leinster's skill as a writer combined with his background as a scientist - an entomologist to be precise - makes for a powerful prologue that will enthrall any lover of classic science fiction.
Subsequent passes in the millennia long terraforming process brought fish, plant life and insects to this rapidly evolving but still primitive nameless planet. But, at that point, computers being what computers are and galactic government administration, like every government before it always having been prone to error, the data on this planet was lost and no further seeding trips were completed - no birds, no mammals, no reptiles and certainly no humans. The insects, the plants and the fish were left to evolve in splendid isolation until, centuries later, a lost and crippled space-liner crashes and maroons a group of humans on the planet which is now as foreign to our human experience as one could possibly imagine - a cloud covered humid swampy environment with predatory spiders and dragonflies that had grown to enormous proportions!
Over the course of many, many generations, the humanity that emerged from a wrecked spaceship slowly devolves to a primitive savagery that must have resembled the earliest stages of human development - no art, no music, no religion, no superstition, no culture, no leisure, nothing but fear and the most basic instincts for eating, reproducing and surviving. It is up to Burl, the metaphorical innovator who stumbles onto the concepts of leadership, hunting, planning, weaponry and teamwork to begin the process of resurrecting his tribe from the depths of savagery to something resembling a modern civilization.
The science is superb (we can overlook the melodrama of the impossibly over-sized insects as being appropriate to the fiction of the day!). The writing is magnificent and the descriptive passages are compelling, mesmerizing, mellifluous and ... well, utterly descriptive ... you'll have no trouble picturing what Leinster is talking about, to be sure! But, frankly, as short as it is, "The Forgotten Planet" suffers from being over-long. A fix-up from three short stories, "The Forgotten Planet" would be better presented as a novella at half its actual length. The central development phase of the novel lapses into needless repetition and bogs down into something that many readers will be tempted to set aside.
Persevere! The novel is only 200 pages long and will pass quickly enough! There's lots of meat for discussion and food for thought in an ending that, in my opinion, was worth the struggle through the slower middle sections.For some readers, the deus ex machina flavour of the ending will strike a raw nerve and irritate. For this reader, I felt it was the only ending possible. (At this point, I tread the very fine line of not wanting to put any spoilers into the review) For me the value of the ending was in realizing what Leinster was portraying as 1950s civilization and how utterly at odds the ecological sensibilities of that day were with today's feelings. Frankly, I was absolutely horrified by the ending ... not in terms of its literary values but in terms of the social values that Leinster was conveying in the writing!
Does that sound cryptic? Good! Then I haven't given anything away. Read it for yourself and you be the judge. You won't be sorry.
Life among the insects
A primitive band of humans, the descendants of the passengers on a crashed spaceliner, struggle to survive on a planet ruled by giant insects, the result of an incomplete terraforming project.Separated from his tribe, young Burl begins to think in new ways and eventually leads his people to a better life.Murray Leinster's entertaining story is lifted a notch above the pulp novel by his vivid and well-researched descriptions of insect life.These people live in a lonely, nightmarish world of mechanical brutality where there are no other living beings with whom they can find common cause.A development near the end of the novel, wherein they encounter long-lost and long-forgotten former companions, is surprisingly touching.
Part of the fun of reading old science fiction is identifying the anachronisms.In a future when humans have spread across the galaxy and are capable of faster-than-light travel, what is the reason that the "forgotten planet" was forgotten?A computer punch card fell down behind a filing cabinet!
Prometheus and the Insects
The publishing history of this novel is a bit complicated. In the early 1920s, Murray Leinster wrote two stories for _Argosy_: "The Mad Planet" (June, 1920) and "The Red Dust" (April, 1921). The stories were set on a future Earth in which man has degenerated to a primitive state and in which giant insects have become the dominant life form.
There were few science fiction books in those days, but the stories were reprinted several times in magazines such as _Amazing Stories_,_Tales of Wonder_, and _Fantastic Novels_. In 1953, Leinster published a third story in the series, "Nightmare Planet," for the short-lived _Science Fiction Plus_. In 1954, he reworked the stories into a novel that was set on an alien planet that has been terraformed and (because of a lost computer card) abandoned. The humans are the ancestors of the survivors of a space liner that has crashed on the planet.
The result is a novel which has a scientific background much like science fiction novels of the 1950s, but which has the style and plot conventions of science fiction of the 1920s. Leinster was already writing smoother, more mature stories than _The Forgotten Planet_ by 1954.
The style is loaded with choppy sentences ["Smolderings became flames. Sparks became coals"(63);"Burl watched them. And then he saw motion overhead" (75}] and repetitions ["His body felt remarkably warm. It felt hot"(61);"Two slender, threadlike antennae popped out. They withdrew and popped out again"(83)].
There are cliches: "Burl's hair stood on end from sheer fright"
(89). There is almost a complete absence of dialogue.
But the novel has a number of virtues as well. The first virtue is the realism of its monsters. Leinster consulted books on insects by Jean Henri Fabre, Ralph Beebe, and Maurice Maeterlinck to describe the behavior of his insects. Leinster's choices were excellent. All three of these writers were superb nature writers who based their books on careful first-hand observation. Here is one example among many of Leinster's realism:
The grasshopper strained terribly in the grip of the wasp's six barbed legs. The wasp's flexible abdomen curved delicately. Its sting entered the jointed armor of its prey just beneath the head with all the deliberate precision of a surgeon's scalpel. A ganglion lay there; the wasp poison entered it. The grasshopper went limp. It was not dead, of course, simply paralyzed. (33)
A second virtue of the novel is the simplicity of its story. It is a retelling of the Prometheus myth-- an account of how humans rediscover lost knowlege (including how to make fire) and how they finally choose a life of dangerous independence over a life of comfortable safety. The Prometheus figure is a primitive genius named Burl,who makes an incredible number of discoveries that he passes on to his tribe. We may fleetingly say to ourselves that it is unlikely that one person could make _that_ many major discoveries in the course of a few days. But we are willing to accept this improbability for the sake of the story.
In short, while _The Forgotten Planet_ has some of the weaknesses of 1920s science fiction, it also has some of its strengths. It has held up well over time.
When man ventured out into space, he found many planets in the correct zone to support human life, but upon these planets life had never appeared. And so, a great project began to terraform these worlds by seeding them with life from earth. But, on one such planet, a clerical error resulted in the process ending before it was finished, leaving molds and fungi and insects to grow to enormous and monstrous size. Later, an interstellar space-liner crashed on this world, bringing its last addition - humans. This is the story of Burl and his tribe of humans, trying to stay alive in a world of living horror, where giant insects stand atop the food chain and men must do what they can to survive!
I must admit that when I first heard about this 1954 book, I was somewhat dubious, as the premise of the story sounds a bit outlandish. Well, I am now a believer! The author does an excellent job of building a vastly different world that is fascinating and quite horrifying. The characters are believable, and the story is absolutely gripping! I loved this book, being quite unable to put it down until I had reached the ending. I highly recommend this book to all science-fiction fans who love reading a story set in a fascinatingly different environment.
... Read more