Murray Leinster's "The Mad Planet" (novelette, adventure, free): Beginning of the Man's return to sentience after a major environmental disaster
Among the best known stories of Leinster, & the first in a series of 3. The fix up novel, The Forgotten Planet, combines the 3 stories, moves the location away from earth, & has a silly ending. But this post is about the original & the best known story of the lot.
Story summary.For unknown reasons, earth's interior began spewing carbon dioxide. By the time things settled down, earth had returned to carboniferous era - low oxygen, lot of carbon dioxide in atmosphere.
30,000 years later, most humans, animals & plants are dead. This is a world dominated by giant fungi & insects - insects far more dangerous than the worst mammals we know. Some tiny isolated tribes of what were once human survive; but they're physically transformed beyond recognition, have lost not only all technology including fire making but most language & indeed sentience. This is the story of man's beginning of the return to sentience & hopefully greater things.
20 year old Burl, the hero of this story & the series, is out to hunt something special to impress Saya, the girl of his tribe he has a soft spot for. The hunt will turn into a major adventure, & by the time he returns several days later, he will be a different man.
- "He was ignorant of fire, metals, or the uses of stone and wood. A single garment covered him. His language was a meager group of a few hundred labial sounds, conveying no abstractions and few concrete things."
- "Only a man attempting to advance in the scale of civilization tries to explain everything. A savage or child is content to observe without comment, unless he repeats legends from wise folk possessed by the itch of knowledge."
- "Even in the high civilization of ages before, few men had really used their brains. The great majority had depended on machines and leaders to think for them."
- "There is something strangely daunting in the actions of an insect. It moves so directly, with uncanny precision, utterly indifferent to anything but the end in view. Cannibalism is almost universal. The paralysis of prey, so it remains alive and fresh--though in agony--for weeks on end, is commonplace. The eating piecemeal of still-living victims is a matter of course.
Absolute mercilessness, utter callousness, incredible inhumanity beyond anything in the animal world is the way of insects. And these vast cruelties are performed by armored, machinelike creatures with an abstraction and a routine air that suggests a horrible Nature behind them all."
- "30,000 years of savagery had not lessened Saya's femininity. She became aware that Burl was her slave, that these wonderful things he wore and had done meant nothing if she did not approve."
Fact sheet.First published: The Argosy, 12 June 1920.
Download full text from The Wondersmith.
Related: Stories of Murray Leinster.