Saturday, October 10, 2009

Damon Knight's "Four in One" (novelette): How about getting eaten by an animal & not only surviving but evolving!

Quote from short story titled Four in One by Damon KnightYesterday, I talked of a story about a 2-in-1 animal - 2 men living in one human body. Trope itself is not unknown; I've seen several stories of the kind, including Arthur Clarke's very creepy "The Parasite".

This one appears to be among the better known of the class - funny in spite of some gory elements.

Story summary.

"Toward the end of the twenty third century AD", four members - 2 men & 2 women - of an early human exploration party on a world had an unusual accident: while exploring as a team close to their camp on foot, they became food to a local animal. This local animal is an amoeba like creature, but huge; not smart, but can use brains of digested smarter animals; divides as amoeba to propagate & is essentially immortal.

What it did with these 4 humans is: eat their bodies, but not their brains & neural tissue. It integrated their brains with its body - so it's now a 4-human-brained animal, occasionally preserving an organ like eye! Story is the discovery of their situation by these trapped brains, their anguish & resignation, discovery that they can grow any organs they desire on this host body with practice, etc.

But most interesting aspect of the story is the conflict among the 4 that is reminiscent of some of the military satires of Eric Frank Russell. So - one animal, 4 brains, but those brains are fighting against each other (actually 2 against 2)! Eventually, for its own survival, the organism will excrete 2 brains; so it's two brains - a man & a woman - that do get along together.

Fact sheet.

First published: Galaxy, 1953.
Rating: A.
Related: Stories of Damon Knight.