Copyright 1954 by
I first read this in 1968 and most recently on the 20th June 2004
For all of human history our planet has been immersed in a region of space wherein
neuronal activity is dramatically inhibited. Now the Earth is drifting out of this
intellectual clouding and almost overnight, every living thing on the planet
becomes more intelligent, amazingly intelligent.
Fabulous? Well not for everybody and certainly not immediately. Society will have to
change to find a structure that will work to satisfy a population of geniuses,
Peter and Sheila Corinth, Nathan Lewis, Felix Mandelbaum and Helga Arnulsen will have to
find their own ways of adapting to the new world, and surviving in the meantime.
The problem with writing a novel with super-intelligent people protagonists is how do
you illustrate that? Can the author write a sufficiently brilliant dialogue, and
would the reader understand it? Poul uses several techniques, two of which I thought
were neat: he spends a lot of time describing the changes to the
intellectually-challenged, dogs, younger brothers and other animals. Secondly new
science and inventions burst forth from his gifted characters at an exhilarating rate.
Boosting intelligence was a popular topic in the fifties and sixties. Medicine had
advanced and there and the drug pharmacology was expanded by the new synthetics.
It seemed reasonable that science would provide new modes or powers of thought. Look
at Theodore Sturgeon's "More Than Human", Daniel Keyes "Flowers for Algernon" or
John Brunner's "The stone That Never Came Down".
Well nope, that's trite and wrong. Has there ever been a point when SF was any less
concerned about mind expansion or development? I think not. Nowadays implants and
internal mental speedups are more fashionable but of course it's always been an topic
of immense interest.
Nowadays, of course, I don't demand a medication
to make me clever, just to stop the decline, and preferably pictorial instructions for
This was one of his first novels and was among those I most enjoyed. His later works got longer and more, well, feudal. And
there were just to many books to decide which ones I had read and
which I hadn't and whether this was a Lieutenant Flandry or another Polesotechnic
League intrigue or just some Norse warriors fighting in the mud.
However, it is a classic masterpiece of SF. Make a point of reading it.
By the way, the 1977 ENL edition (and possibly later ones) includes an interesting
preface by Brian Aldiss.
Loaded on the 14th August 2005.