The Forgotten Planet
by Murray Leinster

Review by
David H. Franson

originally as —
"The Mad Planet", Argosy, June 1920
"The Red Dust", Argosy, April 1921
"Nightmare Planet", Science Fiction Plus, June 1953

revised —
Gnome Press: Hicksville, New York; 1954
177 pages

Crown: New York; 1984
209 pages

February 2002


In The Forgotten Planet by Murray Leinster, surveyors have found a barren planet — like most in the galaxy. The human race needs to spread out because Earth is overcrowded, but humans can't live where there is no other life. So seed-ships were sent at long intervals to "pollute" barren planets with terrestrial life, starting with basic microorganisms. The nameless planet of this story had two such life-seeding visits, dropping off bacteria, fungi, plants, and bugs.

There was supposed to be a third visit to place animals, but when the galactic administration was moving its records, the punched card for this partially-seeded planet was lost. — So centuries later, when a space liner is shipwrecked here, the people stranded on the planet find a nightmare world with mastodon-sized spiders, and a lot of the other bugs and fungi also enlarged.

The stranded people had time to think of nothing but the giant, dangerous wildlife when they were facing these horrors — which they usually were. Otherwise they were hiding, finding food, or eating. Following generations were unable to maintain any level of civilization, even of the Stone Age.

Surviving continues to be hard. We follow Burl and his primitive tribe in their daily activities. Once people have food, they hide with it until it is all consumed. Their diet consists of overgrown fungus, and occasionally the legs of a luckless moth or butterfly that they catch just emerging from its cocoon:

The tiniest butterflies of Earth had increased their size here until their wings spread feet across, and some — like the emperor moths — stretched out purple wings which were yards in span. Burl himself would have been dwarfed beneath a great moth's wing.

But he wore a gaudy fabric made of one. The moths and giant butterflies were harmless to men. Burl's fellow tribesmen sometimes came upon a cocoon when it was just about to open, and if they dared they waited timorously beside it until the creature inside broke through its sleeping-shell and came out into the light.

Then, before it gathered energy from the air and before its wings swelled to strength and firmness, the tribesmen fell upon it. They tore the delicate wings from its body and the still-flaccid limbs from their places. And when it lay helpless before them they fled away to feast on its juicy, meat-filled limbs.

They dared not linger, of course. ...

This book is very well written and you can really get a feel for how men can become furtive vermin in such conditions. And — since the novel is by Murray Leinster — how Burl rediscovers conscious thinking and planning, teaches his tribe not just to survive in their harsh environment but to master it, and break out of the primitive cycle to start building civilization afresh.

By using real, familiar creatures — many times magnified of course! — you can understand Burl and his tribe's actions better than if they faced totally strange monsters. Leinster in his "Author's Note" describes a garden spider, and adds,

That spider, very much magnified, is in this book with crickets and grasshoppers and divers beetles you may not know personally. But this is not an insect-book, but science-fiction. If the habits of the creatures in it are authentic, it is because they are much more dramatic and interesting than things one can invent.

The Forgotten Planet is one of the pioneer works of science fiction. The Crown edition also has a good introduction by George Zebrowski. I enjoyed this novel, and would recommend it for people who like science fiction adventure with giant bugs! And even those who hate bugs will get a certain amount of satisfaction in the end.


© 2002 David H. Franson

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