Sunday, June 29, 2008

Mark Clifton's "What Now, Little Man?" (novelette, science fiction, free): On racial superiority prejudices

Quote from short story titled What Now, Little Man by Mark CliftonDuring the last month or two, I've sampled may be a dozen authors I'd not read before from classics section. Two have been good finds - Bertram Chandler & Clifton; I'm ready to consume more of their stories.

While Clifton's endings don't really have great resolutions, he appears to address rather big subjects - sometimes without easy answers. I liked both his stories while I was reading, though their details were easy to forget afterward.

Story summary.

When humans colonized a new world Libo, they found "goonies" among its natives. Goonies have body structure rather similar to humans, though they're not humanoid. And they are in some kind of symbiosis with a local tree called "pal"; each goonie is attached to its own pal tree, & would rather die than eat the fruits of any other tree. And their newborn numbers are automatically regulated to available pal tree population.

Humans consider them animals. This is the story of slow downing on humans of their true nature, & the innate human nature to stubbornly refuse to accept things that violate established prejudices in spite of hard evidence.

There is a thin thread based on Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent protests - a rather passive form of Mahatma's methods. Goonies submit to every cruelty humans have afflicted on them - they just stand & get slaughtered when hunted, they meekly & cheerfully submit to hard labor or physical abuse, ...

Story is narrated by Jim MacPherson, a human colonist & a goonie "farmer". He began by planting pal trees, hence making goonie breed. And using goonies as meat animals. He slowly found they can be trained for virtually any task - in the end, tasks that even many humans are bad at - & their full potential nowhere in sight. This leads to ill will among people, & tension in the story.

In the end, there is wild speculation by Jim - may be goonies are aliens at a post-human stage of development, ... I found the arguments in this part unsatisfactory. That's where the title comes from - human nature has not outgrown its earth bound complexes even after going out to stars:

"Go out to the stars, young man, and grow up with the universe!

All right! We're out there!

What now, little man?"

Fact sheet.

First published: F&SF, December 1959.
Rating: A
Download full text from Internet Archive.
Included in Ellen Datlow's Sci Fiction classics.
Related: All stories of Mark Clifton.