TODAY’S BOOK: FORGOTTEN PLANET

Posted: June 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

forgotten planet

This is probably—if pressed to the wall–my favorite SF novel, albeit biased with a veneer of  nostalgia.

Like Ray Bradbury’s MARTIAN CHRONICLES and Clifford Simak’s immortal CITY, this was a patchwork of previously published magazine short stories under various titles: THE MAD PLANET (Argosy Weekly, 1920), THE RED DUST (Amazing Stories 1927) NIGHTMARE PLANET (Science Fiction Plus, 1953) etc.  None of which detracts in the least from Murray Leinster’s ultimately explosive cohesion, THE FORGOTTEN PLANET.

Pictured here in a first edition 1954 Gnome Press publication, I’ve also included the 1956 Ace paperback because it was the childhood copy I fell in love with and because the mass-market  illustration has a lively, more evocative feel than Ed Emshwiller’s hardcover map design. This is the novel that kept me wrapped in after-school enthrallment at the bike stand while classmates filed by with curious glances and cocked brows; I just could not put it down. Even back then I was amazed some studio hadn’t snatched up the movie rights–am more amazed now than ever, when today’s CGI makes anything possible. The book has summer movie written all over it.

Burl and his tribe of primitives live on a planet shrouded in mists and lofty mushroom forests three times the height of man…and teeming with giant spiders and insects big as buses. It’s a nightmare world where every step may be your last, snared in a massive web or facing down a ravenous, ten foot beetle.  Empty and sterile ages ago, Burl’s world had been discovered in deep space by Earth explorers and approved for “restoration”: seeding ships showered microscopic life into empty seas, sewed barren landscapes with plant life for future human colonists. But a card was misfiled at Headquarters and the program inadvertently shut down—the planet lost–leaving the insect live to thrive and grow to monstrous proportions without natural enemies or containment. The crew of a lost survey ship, the Icarus, bore Burl’s early ancestors to the tortured little world–ship and crew now so long gone Burl and his huddled tribe don’t remember them. A savage in a savage land, protagonist Burl must endure a daily battle of fear and inbred superstition against the insect monsters, plagued by constant terror, ignorance and inner-tribal conflict…until the day he is struck by inspiration! Is it possible to fight back against the insect horde, become their equal, their master…even someday move out of the misted valleys into the forbidden mountains to seek his destiny and true identity?

Eons more subtle and complex with human emotion than its linear plot might suggest, THE FORGOTTEN PLANET’s headlong narrative so hypnotically involves, I defy anyone to quit after the first chapter…no, make that the first paragraph. Burl’s slow, soulful awakening to mature concepts of what it is to be human is handled beautifully and none of the battles between insect life and environment seems unbelievable or the least forced (Leinster did his entomology homework) scientifically improbable as they may be. Burl’s ultimate triumph becomes our own, his passage a litmus test for life. Deceptively simplistic, never preachy, it’s one of those rare books that survives on its own terms, can be enjoyed and appreciated—and I mean this—by young and old alike. It’s just that universally good.

Murray Leinster (the nom de plume of William Fitzgerald Jenkins) was a prolific writer of early sci-fi: SPACE TUG, SPACE FERRY, SIDEWISE IN TIME, OPERATION OUTER SPACE, THE LAST SHIP, etc. Born in Norfolk, VA in 1896 he served with the Committee of Public Information and the United States Army during WW l. After the war, Leinster took up freelance writing. In 1921 he married Mary Mandola who gave him four daughters. During WW ll he served in the Office of War Information. He won the Liberty Award in 1937 for “A Very Nice Family,” and the 1956 Hugo Award for Best Novelette with “Exploration Team.”

This Gnome Press hardcover may set you back a bit if you can locate one, but FORGOTTEN PLANET was in continuous paperback print for years throughout the 60’s and 70’s and perhaps beyond, so landing a copy shouldn’t be that difficult. Do yourself a favor and plunge headlong with Burl, female partner Saya and their primitive band of survivors into the swirling mysteries and unforgettable terrors of the planet forgotten. Your heart and imagination will soar!

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