Saturday, August 15, 2009

William Tenn's "Of Men and Monsters" (novel, satire): What if humans changed places with cockroaches?

Quote from the novel titled Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn It's clear this book is a satire - generally on certain ways of thinking. But on precisely what ... is probably open to debate - against human cruelty to own & other species, against corruption of "my" culture by "yours" ("ancestor science" vs "alien science"), ...

"Ancestor science" vs "alien science" was the only part I could clearly associate with. A Cover image of the novel Of Men and Monsters by William Tennversion of this debate that keeps coming up periodically in India at many levels.

Story summary.

Giant aliens ("Monsters") invaded earth centuries ago & are now the local lords. They are physically so huge, they never even noticed humans or ever associated previous culture with humans!

Humans have pretty much lost their civilization, & now live like primitive in ... hold your breath, crevices in the insulation in the walls of the aliens' homes! These walls are so thick, several tribes inhabit its width! These tribes are always at war with each other; also some are technologically a bit more advanced than others. And life expectancy is so low - most women now give birth to litters rather than single babies.

Humans live like vermin - stealing bits of food & small articles from aliens. They get treated as vermin too - snipped under the foot when an alien sees them, sprayed with pesticide that kills them by the hundreds, ...

This is the coming of age story of Eric - of a tribe that calls itself "Mankind". Initiation into adult society requires that he venture into Monster territory (open spaces inside the alien's home) & steal something. He will get caught in his tribe's political intrigue, get nearly killed by his own people, join a band of multi-tribe revolutionaries out to find aliens' weapons, end up as a research animal in aliens' pest research lab where he will witness aliens dissecting fellow humans & trying various ways of killing them & where he will meet his lady love, make a daring escape from this lab with his lady love & a friend, & finally join his girl's people on their conquest of space - by stowing away as vermin on alien cargo ship (which also has similar insulation) with a plan to land small batches of people on each world the ship lands, so there will be humans everywhere the Monsters are!


  1. Story is not always logical. How many homes have a well equipped pest research lab? How many homes will keep a cargo spaceship on their roof (& with hatch open too!), even if they are alien residents here?

See also.

  1. There is just too much similarity between this story & two decades older A Bertram Chandler's "Giant Killer" (1945). Replace humans with rats, aliens with humans, & add substantially more violence - & you have Chandler's version.
  2. Eric Frank Russell's "Into Your Tent I'll Creep" (1957) shares, at some level, its idea of the conquest of other worlds as a pest. In Russell's version, it's the dogs that do the conquesting.

Fact sheet.

First published: 1968. Is an expansion of his short story "The Men in the Walls" (1963). I've not read the short story version.
Rating: B.
Included in "grubthrower"'s list of "Top 10 Obscure But Superb Science Fiction Novels".
Related: Stories of William Tenn.