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Earth was now a crowded planet and science had advanced to the point where terraforming remote barren planets for the future expansion of humanity was a possibility
"The seed ship Orana landed on this planet - which still had no name. It carefully infected it. It circled endlessly above the clouds, dribbling out a fine dust - the spores of every conceivable micro-organism which could break down rock to powder and turn that dust to soil. It was also a seeding of moulds and fungi and lichens and everything which could turn powdery primitive soil into stuff on which higher forms of life could grow. The Orana polluted the seas with plankton. Then it, too, went away."
Leinster's skill as a writer combined with his background as a scientist - an entomologist to be precise - makes for a powerful prologue that will enthrall any lover of classic science fiction.
Subsequent passes in the millennia long terraforming process brought fish, plant life and insects to this rapidly evolving but still primitive nameless planet. But, at that point, computers being what computers are and galactic government administration, like every government before it always having been prone to error, the data on this planet was lost and no further seeding trips were completed - no birds, no mammals, no reptiles and certainly no humans. The insects, the plants and the fish were left to evolve in splendid isolation until, centuries later, a lost and crippled space-liner crashes and maroons a group of humans on the planet which is now as foreign to our human experience as one could possibly imagine - a cloud covered humid swampy environment with predatory spiders and dragonflies that had grown to enormous proportions!
Over the course of many, many generations, the humanity that emerged from a wrecked spaceship slowly devolves to a primitive savagery that must have resembled the earliest stages of human development - no art, no music, no religion, no superstition, no culture, no leisure, nothing but fear and the most basic instincts for eating, reproducing and surviving. It is up to Burl, the metaphorical innovator who stumbles onto the concepts of leadership, hunting, planning, weaponry and teamwork to begin the process of resurrecting his tribe from the depths of savagery to something resembling a modern civilization.
The science is superb (we can overlook the melodrama of the impossibly over-sized insects as being appropriate to the fiction of the day!). The writing is magnificent and the descriptive passages are compelling, mesmerizing, mellifluous and ... well, utterly descriptive ... you'll have no trouble picturing what Leinster is talking about, to be sure! But, frankly, as short as it is, "The Forgotten Planet" suffers from being over-long. A fix-up from three short stories, "The Forgotten Planet" would be better presented as a novella at half its actual length. The central development phase of the novel lapses into needless repetition and bogs down into something that many readers will be tempted to set aside.
Persevere! The novel is only 200 pages long and will pass quickly enough! There's lots of meat for discussion and food for thought in an ending that, in my opinion, was worth the struggle through the slower middle sections. For some readers, the deus ex machina flavour of the ending will strike a raw nerve and irritate. For this reader, I felt it was the only ending possible. (At this point, I tread the very fine line of not wanting to put any spoilers into the review) For me the value of the ending was in realizing what Leinster was portraying as 1950s civilization and how utterly at odds the ecological sensibilities of that day were with today's feelings. Frankly, I was absolutely horrified by the ending ... not in terms of its literary values but in terms of the social values that Leinster was conveying in the writing!
Does that sound cryptic? Good! Then I haven't given anything away. Read it for yourself and you be the judge. You won't be sorry.
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